'Caroline Kennedy has had some dramatic challenges in her life, starting with her father's assassination 50 years ago. Her new job as Washington's s ambassador to Japan has already thrust her into the middle of growing geopolitical tensions in East Asia less than two weeks after her arrival.
The daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy came to Japan with the profile of a superstar, but with little experience in foreign policy and no specific ties to her host country. Rather than easing into her new role, the 56-year-old lawyer, author, and mother of three has found herself on the spot, delivering a stern message to China whose growing dominance in East Asia challenges the U.S.'s own regional strategy.
"Unilateral actions like those taken by China…constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea," the ambassador said in her first policy speech Wednesday, four days after Beijing ratcheted up its territorial dispute with Tokyo by unveiling a new air defense zone that overlaps with Japan's. "This only serves to increase tensions in the region."
Ms. Kennedy has a lot to prove before she gets high marks for her diplomatic skills from foreign policy experts, some of whom questioned her qualifications when her name first surfaced as President Barack Obama's choice for the Japan job earlier this year. Still, Wednesday's speech was received enthusiastically by an audience made up of Japanese and American business leaders and officials who filled a cavernous Tokyo ballroom. Speaking after her speech, Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to Washington, described her arrival as "a Thanksgiving gift and a Christmas gift coming together. It's a great gift to Japan from the U.S. government."
Such enthusiasm is apparent across the nation, where President Kennedy's popularity endures. Japanese reporters staked out at curbside at the airport even before she left New York on Nov. 14. When she took a carriage ride to deliver her credentials to Emperor Akihito last week, an estimated five thousand people lined up on her route. The Japanese media are eagerly reporting the details of her daily activities, with television hosts weaving in comments about her outfits and her family history.
Ms. Kennedy's superstar power was on display in Tohoku, Japan's northeastern region where many residents are still suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. After spending her first week in Tokyo visiting top officials and greeting U.S. troops at local bases, Ms. Kennedy chose the area as the place for her debut before ordinary Japanese and took a two-day tour earlier this week.
The trip came just three days after the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Ms. Kennedy's father, an event that thrust her family in the spotlight and one she chose to observe privately at her new home in Japan.'