John Roos wants to strengthen ‘special bond’ as next envoy to Japan

by Takehiko Kajita

John Roos, nominee for the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, on Thursday called the Japan-U.S. alliance ''the cornerstone of security and stability in the East Asia-Pacific region'' and pledged to work hard to solidify the ''special bond'' between the two nations if his nomination is confirmed.

Roos, a 54-year-old California-based lawyer, said during a Senate confirmation hearing that close bilateral relations will remain unchanged even if the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan wrests power from the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party in the Aug. 30 general election as opinion polls indicate.

He said the early focus by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on relations with Japan ''emphasizes the special bond between our two countries.''

Roos was referring to Obama having received Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso as the first foreign leader invited to the White House since taking office and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton having made Tokyo the first stop on her first overseas trip.

''I will devote myself to strengthening and expanding'' that bond, including the bilateral alliance, he said. ''Our alliance with Japan is the cornerstone of security and stability in the East Asia-Pacific region.''

If approved by the Senate, Roos, one of Obama's top fundraisers during his presidential campaign, will serve as point man for U.S. policy on Japan, a key Asian ally.

Roos was hopeful that the DPJ, which is calling for a more equal alliance with the United States, will take a realistic stance on Washington, even if it takes control of government.

''The relationships with the United States government are deep on both sides of the aisle over there, and we continue to have those relationships and will continue no matter what government is in power,'' he said.

''I believe that the DPJ will be equally committed to the strength of the alliance and the bilateral relationships, and that those policies will evolve as we get closer and post-election,'' he said.

On Tuesday, Japanese premier Aso dissolved the more-powerful House of Representatives for an Aug. 30 election. Public opinion polls have indicated his ruling LDP could be thrust from power for only the second time since 1955.

Roos is almost unknown among U.S. and Japanese officials and experts. As he has had no diplomatic and security experience, some doubt has been raised about his qualifications at a time when North Korea's nuclear and missile threats are a major source of concern.

Another major task for him will be to oversee a pact committing Japan and the United States to following through on the planned transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

''I also pledge to work with Japan to address critical global challenges, including the security of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,'' the ambassador-designate said.

''I will continue close consultations on developments on the Korean Peninsula and work to foster good coordination in our relations with other Pacific powers'' such as Australia, China and Russia, he promised.

He also pointed to the need for Japan and the United States to join forces in helping lift the world economy from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

''Japan and the United States are the two biggest economies in the world. So it's critical that the two of us play leading roles in the recovery of the global economy,'' Roos said.

''And one of the areas that I want to spend a lot of time focused on is opening up markets, leveling the playing field and making sure that we have the free flow of trade, as the global economy recovers,'' he added.

Roos graduated from Stanford Law School in 1980. He is currently chief executive officer of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm in Silicon Valley.

The post of ambassador to Japan was initially to be awarded to Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor emeritus and former assistant secretary of defense.

But Roos was chosen as he enjoys strong personal ties with Obama, similar to those between former President George W. Bush and his envoy to Japan, Thomas Schieffer.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on July 24, 2009)