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New US envoy to Japan seen focusing on investment, jobs

William Hagerty will succeed Caroline Kennedy as ambassador

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration has announced William Hagerty, a businessman with extensive experience with Japan, as its new ambassador in Tokyo in a likely attempt to attract more investment and jobs from Japanese corporations.

Hagerty served as commissioner of economic development in his home state of Tennessee from 2011 to 2015, wooing overseas investors from Japan and elsewhere. The state ranked first in the U.S. for job creation in 2013, thanks in part to foreign investment. More than 160 Japanese companies, including Nissan Motor, now employ a total of 35,000 people in Tennessee.

Hagerty is known to have an affinity for Japan in his personal life as well. He is a fan of sumo wrestling, and two of his four children take karate lessons. He has also visited Japan with his family on vacation and went to the country at least twice last year.

Tokyo and Washington will set up an economic dialogue in April to discuss greater investment in the U.S. and other issues. President Donald Trump apparently saw Hagerty as the right choice for drawing more Japanese money and job-creation efforts.

"This reflects the administration's desire to strengthen economic ties with Japan," a diplomatic source said.

Hagerty understands Japan's contributions to the U.S. economy, according to Nicholas Szechenyi, deputy director of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The new ambassador will serve an important role in solidifying trust between the two countries, Szechenyi said.

Hagerty is believed to have volunteered for the post. He initially supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential race last year, but joined Trump when he won the nomination, and helped with fundraising in Tennessee. The ambassadorship is considered to be Trump's reward.

As director of presidential appointments in the transition team, Hagerty was also involved in many of the administration's key nominations. He will be counted among U.S. ambassadors to Japan who were businessmen knowledgeable about the country rather than political heavyweights such as Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale and Howard Baker.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University and Law School in Nashville, Hagerty started his professional career at Boston Consulting Group in 1984. He worked for the company in Tokyo for three years. He later founded the investment firm Hagerty Peterson & Co.

Meanwhile, Hagerty built ties with Republicans. He worked in the White House from 1991 to 1993 under then-President George H.W. Bush, involved in a wide range of policies from finance to defense. He also had roles in the presidential campaigns of Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012.

Hagerty's predecessor, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, had a very public profile and ties to then-President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats. Japan hopes the next ambassador will also have direct and frequent access to the president, but it is unclear whether Hagerty -- a relative newcomer to Trump's camp -- can live up to expectations.

Tokyo and Washington face a number of issues, including the controversial relocation of the Futenma air base in Okinawa and the North Korean threat. Hagerty may offer more insight into security issues during his confirmation hearing in the Senate.

Hagerty has been friends with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson since they were children, when they were Boy Scouts together.

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