WASHINGTON – The Senate has confirmed Tennessee businessman William Hagerty as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan.
Senators voted 86-12 Thursday to approve Hagerty’s nomination.
Hagerty, 57, is expected to take up the post in August, according to a source familiar with Japan-U.S. relations.
He will serve in Tokyo at a time when the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly severe amid China’s military buildup and territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas, as well as North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles that could strike as far as the United States.
In light of Trump’s calls for “fair” trade, Hagerty, who served as a key member of the Trump transition team, is expected to call for greater market access for U.S. products in Japan as part of an effort to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with the country.
“We sincerely welcome the confirmation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, pointing out that Trump has great trust in Hagerty.
“We hope to strengthen bilateral ties to ensure that the Japan-U.S. alliance, which is a cornerstone for Japan’s foreign and security policies, is unwavering,” the top government spokesman said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also welcomed the Senate vote, saying, “We’re looking forward to having him join Japan as our next U.S. ambassador.”
“He spent a good deal of time over there. I know he’s steeped in the issues,” Nauert told a news briefing.
In a Senate confirmation hearing on May 18, Hagerty reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to its alliance with Tokyo, calling it “the cornerstone of regional peace and security” and “a platform for global cooperation.”
The ambassador-in-waiting underlined the United States’ “unwavering” commitment to the defense of the Senkaku Islands, a group of islets administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, in accordance with the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
Hagerty stressed the need for close coordination with Japan and trilaterally with South Korea in pressing North Korea “to abandon its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs.”
On the economic front, Hagerty pledged to help increase U.S. exports to Japan in areas such as agriculture, defense and manufacturing including automobiles.
He added that U.S. exports of energy such as liquid natural gas to Japan could significantly cut into the trade deficit.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its OK to Hagerty last month after he satisfied Democrats that he had no role in the screening of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Flynn is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Congressional committees also are examining Moscow’s election meddling.
Hagerty was director of presidential appointments for Trump’s transition team. But he told Democrats he focused on Cabinet picks and not White House staff aides.
Hagerty is a founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co., a private equity investment firm in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hagerty built ties with Japan through a three-year posting to Tokyo from the late 1980s to early 1990s while working for the Boston Consulting Group, and in his work as commissioner of economic development for Tennessee from 2011 to 2015.
Meanwhile, Joseph Young, who has served as director for Japanese affairs at the State Department, is also slated to arrive in Japan next month to assume the post of deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.