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The Diplomat: U.S.-Japan Relations: Not So Sweet Caroline

Author: Yo-jung Chen
April 2, 2014

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"America, which badly needs stability in East Asia and a solid U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance in order to face an assertive—but indispensible—China and an unpredictable North Korea, has been disturbed by the worsening tensions between Japan and its two neighbors under Abe's watch. Although Japan may not be the only party to blame in these quarrels, Washington is increasingly irritated by what it sees as Abe's unhelpful flexing of nationalism that has served only to aggravate an already precarious situation in Asia."

In a November 2013 op-ed for Singapore's Straits Times ("Kennedy Magic and US-Japan Relations"), I wrote about the national frenzy that greeted the arrival in Japan of Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador.

Besides the worldwide "Kennedy magic," the Japanese have particular reason to harbor special feelings for the Kennedys. On that fateful day of November 22, 1963, Japanese were glued to their television sets anticipating a happy event: the inauguration of the first-ever live satellite transmission from the United States. When those much-anticipated first images finally appeared on the screen, they were conveying the breaking news of the assassination of the U.S. president. Imagine the shock felt by millions of Japanese TV viewers.

Fifty years later and only three days to the tragic anniversary, euphoric crowds lined the streets of Tokyo to watch JFK's daughter ride in a Victorian-style horse-drawn carriage on her way to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials to the Emperor. Some in the ecstatic thousand-strong crowd could be heard happily chanting "Sweet Caroline," in reference to the song dedicated to her in 1969 by Neil Diamond.

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