In February, Diana DeGette (D-CO) and I led a delegation of members of Congress to Japan as Co-Chairs of the Congressional Study Group on Japan. Along with meeting with Prime Minister Abe, members of the Japanese Diet and many government officials, we were able to tour the Fukushima nuclear reactor where the 2011 disaster struck. While visiting, one of the questions I was asked was what is one of the biggest misconceptions individuals have about the U.S.-Japan relationship. Unfortunately, one of the biggest misconceptions is that our relationship with Japan is not important. What many of us in Congress have failed to do is explain why this relationship is so vital and how the many benefits go beyond international interests.
In 1952, the U.S. and Japan entered a military alliance that allowed U.S. troops to be based throughout Japan. In return, the U.S. promised to protect Japan’s security interests. Since this alliance, Japan has become one of our strongest allies on the Pacific Rim, with nearly 50,000 U.S. troops based there. Not only is Japan a strong military partner, it is also our fourth largest trading partner. Recently, the U.S. and Japan had their first round of trade negotiations in hopes of securing a bilateral trade agreement, all thanks to President Trump.
As important as our work is with Japan on trade and security, it has always been a priority of mine to not just tell people why our relationship with Japan is so vital but show them how it can personally benefit them. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to do that when I invited former Ambassador Sasae and his wife to visit my district for two days. During this visit, Ambassador Sasae had the chance to meet with business leaders in the community and visit with students and faculty at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU). The university hosted a luncheon for the ambassador and his wife and they were shocked and pleasantly surprised as 26 Japanese students enrolled at MSSU at that time attended the lunch.
One of the people Ambassador Sasae talked with was Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies at MSSU. Stebbins suggested creating an internship program at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. for students minoring in Japanese. Soon after meeting the Ambassador, Stebbins was put in contact with individuals at the embassy. Now, almost three years later, several students from MSSU have had the opportunity to participate in this valuable internship experience doing tasks such as planning events, writing content for a variety of platforms and helping with research.
It’s stories like these that help individuals have a better understanding of many benefits a strong relationship with Japan will bring. It’s why I continue the work I do as Co-Chair of the Congressional Study Group on Japan.
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