Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Who’s Roos?

May 29, 2009

Roos who?

That was pretty much the reaction in Japan when U.S. President Barack Obama tapped California lawyer and campaign donor John Roos as ambassador to Tokyo.

News of the choice sent Japanese diplomats and U.S.-Japan watchers scrambling for information about Roos, whom one U.S. expert described to me in a hurried email as a “Silicon valley mover and shaker, not with any link to Japan, though clearly to Obama”.

The pick risked sending a sign that a wary Tokyo would interpret as more evidence of “Japan passing”, a phenomenon much feared in Japan, in which Washington is seen cosying up to Beijing at the expense of its closest Asian ally.

Many Japanese media had expected Obama to select Harvard professor Joseph Nye, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense well known in Japan for his work on the alliance, though reports that his nomination was a done deal had been dodgy for a while.

“His ability is unknown,” the Mainichi newspaper quoted a foreign ministry official as saying of Roos, while expressing worries about the nomination at a time when North Asia tensions are rising in the wake of a North Korean nuclear test.

The paper also took note of a possible slight in that  Obama introduced his nominee for envoy to China to White House media but unveiled Roos’ nomination in a statement.

Japanese officials have publicly put a good face on the matter, with top government spokesman Takeo Kawamura calling it “proof that the Obama adminsitration considers the Japan-U.S. alliance important”.

Those keen to stress the positive have noted that Roos will be an envoy in the mould of predecessor Thomas Schieffer, a close friend of Bush who was widely seen as a successful ambassador.

The Nikkei newspaper, meanwhile, managed to spare a few words of sympathy for Roos, whose nomination coincides with a time of political stalemate and policy deadlock in the world’s No. 2 economy that could make always delicate diplomacy even tougher.

“His work in Tokyo may not be so pleasant,” the paper warned.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Caronna at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo


Is this a smart move? Don’t forget this still is the world’s number 2 economy, Joseph Nye would have been a far better choice, he has got great knowledge and knows what he’s talking about. In a way its not very respectful towards the Japanese people and although they’ll never say anything negative in public, this action may have closed doors that were once open.


Roos will be fine. What’s needed is a guy who won’t drop the ball by puking on or shagging his hosts and will be able to communicate with the White House if needed. The main business of the embassy, and responsibility for maintaining bilateral relations, will rest with the professional diplomats. Business as usual.


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