White House asks US Ambassador to Japan to stop mocking China on social media, report claims

Rahm Emanuel’s stint as ambassador to Japan appears to be off to a rocky start, according to some White House officials.

Confirmed in late 2021 to the office, Mr Emanuel has been the US representative in Tokyo for a little more than a year and a half. But NBC News reports that he has already waded into territory that has put the White House in an uncomfortable position. Three administration officials told the network that Mr Emanuel had been reprimanded for posting a series of taunting messages aimed at Japan’s neighbour, China, on Twitter.

The messages in question were posted earlier this month; in the tweets, the mayor-turned-ambassador speculates about why a Chinese defence minister has not been seen in public and generally appears to mock the Chinese government over internal instability.

“President Xi's cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None. First, Foreign Minister Qin Gang goes missing, then the Rocket Force commanders go missing, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn't been seen in public for two weeks. Who's going to win this unemployment race? China’s youth or Xi's cabinet?” he wrote in a 7 September message.

Another tweet sent a week later read: “As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” 1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam. Now: He’s absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy because he was placed on house arrest???”

“Might be getting crowded in there,” he added.

According to one official who spoke to NBC News, the White House informed Mr Emanuel that his tweets were “not in keeping with the message coming out of this building”.

But Mr Emanuel’s office has disputed NBC’s reporting, calling the assertion that he was reprimanded “absolutely not true.”

The Independent has reached out to the State Department for comment on NBC’s reporting.

“Ambassador Emanuel is serving with distinction as an uncommonly effective representative of the United States in Japan. Every day his inventiveness, passion and relentlessness are on full display,” Kurt Campbell, deputy assistant to the president, told NBC News about the ambassador, while refusing to comment on whether Mr Emanuel would be making further remarks about China’s government. “This guy is a superstar and when you put Rahm on the field you get the full Rahm.”

Mr Emanuel, the son and grandson of Jewish immigrants, grew up in Chicago and had no connection to Japan prior to being selected as the US ambassador. His posting was largely seen as a reward for years of loyalty in the Democratic Party; he previously served in the Obama White House as chief of staff, and in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and White House.

He won two terms in office as Chicago’s mayor but withdrew from a third bid amid criticism of his handling of the police shooting of a Black teenager, Laquan Mcdonald.