After his remarks, Mr. Emmanuel stuck around for a fireside chat with Christine Karbowiak, formerly of Bridgestone. Credit: Trevor Williams / Global Atlanta

TOKYO — A hush came over the crowd when U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel entered the ballroom, impromptu networking sessions giving way to the gravity of the moment. 

The former Chicago mayor, White House chief of staff and longtime political operative took part of his afternoon to address an audience whose mission aligns with his diplomatic assignment: deepening U.S.-Japan partnership at a time of global uncertainty. 

Along with President Biden and Vice President Harris, the ambassador has hosted a parade of 21 governors visiting the embassy since he took up his post 19 months ago. That’s up from an average of two per year before the pandemic, showing a renewed appreciation for the vital role of the world’s third largest economy. 

Another governor, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, was in the room at the Southeast U.S. Japan alliance annual meeting, where representatives from seven Southern U.S. states gathered with Japanese partners at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel to celebrate their longstanding collaboration. 

In brief remarks to the group, Mr. Emanuel said what he calls the three C’s have altered the trajectory of global economic integration: COVID, conflict and coercion, principally on the part of China, which is throwing its weight around on the world stage (including banning seafood from all of Japan in response to its release of treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.)

These three factors have shown that the wave of globalization pursued over the last 30 years, primarily focused on tariff elimination, opened companies (and countries) up to serious liabilities in the pursuit of lower costs and greater efficiencies. 

But Mr. Emanuel doesn’t buy that globalization is in inexorable decline. It will endure, but in a new, more nuanced form born of this unique time of reckoning, he said. Going forward, global trade and investment will be marked by three trends, the ambassador said:  

1. Companies will prize stability and economic security over cutting costs. The ambassador said global economic integration and statecraft is fundamentally changing and being rewritten. He challenged those who want to go back to to the standard trade posture of the last couple of decades, saying that this is not possible after what has happened with COVID, Russia and its Ukraine invasion, and China’s actions.

2. Energy will be a strategic asset, not a commodity. Whether it’s liquefied natural gas, renewables, nuclear or batteries, the ambassador said that energy is no longer merely a resource to drive the economy; it is a strategic asset that gets deployed with friendly nations.

3. All companies are data companies. Whether manufacturing or selling a financial asset, all companies are engaged in data collection that underpins their business.

After his remarks, Mr. Emanuel stuck around for a fireside chat with Christine Karbowiak, a retired executive vice president from Bridgestone Americas who served as the emcee for the day.

Mr. Emanuel reflected on the practice of diplomacy, shared plans for an upcoming extended cycling trip and praised Japan for what he said was the ultimate reflection of the country’s beauty: that schoolchildren can take safe passage for granted on their morning commutes.

He encouraged companies in the audience to consider investing in Japan, a friend and ally that has a front seat to the world’s most dynamic region. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...