East Asia is generally known as a pretty safe place for U.S. diplomats. But it hasn’t seemed that way lately. Less than two weeks ago, an attacker slashed U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert in the face and arm, leaving him with serious wounds. And Thursday, the State Department confirmed that U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy — one of Washington’s best-known and highest-profile diplomats — had received multiple death threats by phone last month.
Japanese police are currently investigating several calls threatening to kill Kennedy, who is the daughter of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, made in February by an English-speaking caller, according to Japan’s NTV broadcasting corporation. Similar calls were made to Alfred Magleby, the U.S. consul general in Naha, Okinawa — the small, southern island where about half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed.
“We take any threats to U.S. diplomats seriously,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We take every step possible to protect our personnel. We are working with the Japanese government to ensure the necessary measures are in place.”
So far, both governments have declined to suggest a motivation for the threats. Police are reportedly looking into suspected blackmail but have offered no further details about their investigations.
It may well be that the Kennedy threats, like the Lippert attack, were the isolated action of one individual acting alone. But as in Lippert’s case, it’s possible that the Okinawa calls reflect anger over perceived U.S. imperialism going back decades.
Lippert’s attacker blasted ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills and demanded an end of the division between the two Koreas, which congealed after the second World War as the United States faced off with its communist rivals, China and Russia.