MR YOUNG: So hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. It’s a real privilege for us to welcome you to Japan, to host your first overseas visit, Mr. Secretary. And we particularly appreciate the new spirit that you’ve brought to our work as diplomats.
It says here that I’m supposed to introduce you, but I think it might work better if I introduce our community to you. So we’re about 280 officers, about double that number of family members. Also 400 Japanese LES colleagues. We think we have the best LES team in the world. We’re spread over the embassy and five consulates, as well as our field school in Yokohama. We also cover 18 agencies, so we’re a real alphabet soup of agency acronyms.
The folks asking the questions today I think represent the diversity of our community. I think we all feel fortunate in our work to contribute to a partnership that’s so fundamental to U.S. interests. Also feel lucky to have a Secretary who’s so close to the President, a longtime relationship with him. Also a Secretary who’s so versed in Asia policy and Japan relations. I was on the Japan desk, and I remember the energy you brought to our issues then. It often felt like we were sprinting to catch up with all of your creative ideas. So I’m sure we’ll see that kind of personal focus, including in today’s meetings.
I have only one regret. It’s that I remember how much I used to enjoy the chance to visit Tsukiji Market.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, yes.
MR YOUNG: In the interventing years it’s moved out of the city center. The Japanese were so excited to host you that I thought they might move it back if we had asked them. (Laughter.) But again, just want to say welcome, we all really greatly appreciate your willingness to answer our questions and to hear your thoughts. And just to reassure everybody, the Secretary has not seen our questions beforehand. I think he was interested in a real free-flowing and forthright conversation.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Joe, thank you very much. And all of you, it is wonderful to see everyone – or at least some of you virtually. I’m so sorry we’re not all in the same place at the same time. We’re getting there. I’m sure we’ll want to talk about that, but I’m so pleased to be able to get together at least virtually. And Joe was right. I mean, one of the highlights of previous visits was that fish market and that particularly wonderful restaurant where you go for breakfast at 5:30 or 6 in the morning, the line around the block. Somehow the embassy managed to circumvent the line; I’m not quite sure how. But on previous visits, we’d managed to go to a concert at the Budokan, to the Tokyo Dome for a baseball game, to a dive bar with one of the best Beatles cover bands I’ve ever seen. So I’m definitely coming back post-COVID to make sure we can do some of that.
But in all seriousness, I really am pleased to get a chance to spend some time with this team. This is, as Joe noted, the first overseas trip that I’ve had the opportunity to make as the Secretary. We decided to double the fun, and Secretary of Defense Austin, of course, is here as well. We know the extra burden that places on the entire embassy, so we’re grateful for that.
But I think it is a testament to the importance that President Biden attaches to the relationship, the partnership, the alliance with Japan. It’s very deliberate that this is the first place that we’re going, that this is our first stop. And I hope that in the – over the next 24 hours, as we engage and work with our Japanese counterparts, we’ll help to carry some of the work that you’re doing every single day forward.
But we’ve really come to reaffirm the fact that the alliance is, as we like to say, the cornerstone of our peace, security, and prosperity. It has been that way for more than 60 years, and I think it’s upon us as the current stewards of the relationship to try to carry that forward for the next years, and to really build on the alliance that we’ve developed so that we can more effectively challenge some of the – tackle some of the toughest challenges that we face.
I believe very strongly, and the President believes, that virtually everything we’re doing has to reflect back on what it means for our fellow citizens back home. How is what we’re doing here, or in any other mission around the world, going to make life just a little bit better, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more secure for them? And the added benefit is when we do that right, by the very nature of who we are and our relationships, we’re hopefully also doing the same thing for the citizens of the countries that we’re lucky enough to be hosted in. And that’s really the mindset that we’re bringing to the relationship.
We recently I know marked a couple of anniversaries that have special resonance for this mission. The first, of course, is the 10-year anniversary of 3/11 and the devastating earthquake and tsunami, the meltdown at Fukushima. I was in government then; I remember it very, very well, very, very, powerfully. But we join Japan, of course, in honoring the people lost in that disaster. I know many local staff and returning direct-hire staff were part of Tomodachi, and continue to work with affected communities. So thank you, thank you, thank you for those efforts. It’s a source of ongoing inspiration and pride for me that the United States was able to step up in our friendship and partnership with Japan, just as Japan and Japanese friends have stepped up for us in the past in moments of need.
The second, of course, is the one-year anniversary of COVID-19. Last February, the Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama with 420 American citizens onboard. You evacuated the people. You implemented protocols to keep staff from contracting the virus. You arranged care for more than 80 passengers who contracted the virus. So you had one of the earliest experiences with COVID-19. I suspect that no one really fully imagined then what all that would mean and where we are now. But the work that you did, I think, stood us in very good stead in a difficult moment.
The professionalism and competence that have defined this mission’s response to the pandemic have been powerful ever since. You’ve managed to maintain essential services for more than 200,000 Americans living in Japan. You safely welcomed dozens of new families to post. You adapted the embassy’s community, and adapted its welfare programs. You even found ways to make it safe for kids to celebrate holidays. I was told about the Halloween trunk-or-treating, and the distance family photos from Santa. Something I know as a relatively new parent, that’s incredibly important. So I’m glad you’ve been able to keep a focus on the human dimension of this entire enterprise.
Most important, you’ve really kept doing the critical work of this mission. That includes preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, which at the moment involves planning for several different scenarios. Whenever and however Team USA ends up competing, it will be because of you, and I thank you for that.
Your remarkable dedication is all the more reason that we owe it to you and to your families to get you vaccinated as soon as possible. And I want to tell you, this is job one for me and for the team in Washington. We’re working as fast as possible to get vaccines to you. There’s nothing we take more seriously than your health and well-being, and that’s for the entire embassy community.
And we will keep you posted at every step. I know we’ll have an opportunity probably to talk about this a little bit more, but one of the things I want to make sure that we’re doing is communicating, telling you what we know, what we’re doing. The answers won’t always be fully satisfactory, but at least you’ll have them.
And we will keep working to support you and the entire State Department workforce in other ways. You know that diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us; it’s a top priority for me. And I know it’s a priority for this mission. Joe and I were talking about that earlier. And I really want to note the work that you’ve done to raise awareness about racism and social justice issues, to increase accountability, reduce unconscious bias in the bidding process, and to spark important conversations on topics like raising biracial children in Japan. So I applaud that, and I think we’re going to learn a lot from the conversations that you’ve been having.
You may have heard President Biden talk about leading by the power of our example. Well, that’s what you’re doing by building such a thoughtful, inclusive, and supportive culture here at Mission Japan, and I’m grateful to you, Joe, for leading that effort, and to all of you for engaging in it.
So let me just close, because I really want to hear from you and answer any questions that I can. Thank you for your service on behalf of the American people. It’s making a difference every single day – in ways big and small, often not immediately visible to our fellow citizens back home, but I can tell you they are and they will feel the impact in their lives.
It’s a tremendous honor to serve as Secretary, but the honor is especially great because of the opportunity I have to work with all of you.
So with that, let’s open it up for questions.
MR YOUNG: Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary.