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Kishida tells Congress Japan will help US carry the load abroad

‘You are not alone. We are with you,’ the prime minister tells lawmakers

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress as Speaker Mike Johnson and Vice President Kamala Harris look on.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress as Speaker Mike Johnson and Vice President Kamala Harris look on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Amid deep divisions on Capitol Hill over how much Washington should involve itself in the affairs of other nations, Japan’s leader on Thursday exhorted lawmakers to continue to robustly support an internationalist foreign policy while promising that Japan was now ready to help the U.S. carry the load.

“As the United States’ closest friend, tomodachi, the people of Japan are with you, side by side, to assure the survival of liberty,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, using the Japanese word for friend in one of the loudest applause lines of his speech before a joint meeting of Congress. “Not just for our people but for all people.”

Kishida became the second Japanese leader to address Congress, following former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But whereas much of Abe’s 2015 speech was about closing the book on lingering tensions from Japanese actions during World War II and Japanese support for a multinational Asia-Pacific trade deal the U.S. never joined, Kishida was defense-focused and future-oriented.

The prime minister, who has led Japan since 2021 after serving as foreign minister under Abe, listed areas where Tokyo in the last two years has departed from the self-imposed pacifist policies that defined Japan’s postwar defense posture. They include plans to double national defense spending so it reaches 2 percent of GDP by 2027 and the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles with counterstrike capabilities.

“I am here to say that Japan is already standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. You are not alone. We are with you,” Kishida said, drawing a loud standing ovation.

And he left no doubt about the reasons for Japan’s shift toward a more proactive defense posture: “China’s current external stance and military actions present an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge, not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large.”

Kishida visited the U.S. last summer for a summit at Camp David with President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol that saw the three leaders resolve to put grievances and frustrations from World War II and Japan’s earlier colonization of the Korean Peninsula behind them. Those historical resentments had repeatedly impeded South Korea and Japanese cooperation with the U.S. to respond to regional threats emanating from North Korea and now from China.

Another example of Japan’s stepped-up willingness to join the U.S. in broader multinational security efforts is the summit between Kishida, Biden, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  Thursday afternoon. The first-of-its-kind summit between the three nations is expected to focus on how the U.S. and Japan can support Manila as Chinese coast guard vessels increasingly harass and threaten Philippine ships in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

US weariness of foreign policies

Kishida repeatedly signaled his understanding for Americans growing tired of the internationalist, pro-interventionist U.S. policies that have dominated for decades but to also ask that Americans — and by proxy their elected representatives on Capitol Hill — continue to carry the flag for the post-World War II rules-based international order.

“I want to address those Americans who feel the loneliness and exhaustion of being the country that has upheld the international order almost single-handedly,” he said. “I understand it is a heavy burden to carry such hopes on your shoulders. Although the world looks to your leadership, the U.S. should not be expected to do it all, unaided and on your own.”

And he promised that Japan would step up to do more.

“Bonded by our beliefs, I pledge to you Japan’s firm alliance and enduring friendship,” the prime minister said, ending a roughly 30-minute speech on a note that received another standing ovation. “Thank you for the role you play in the world.”

Without explicitly asking House Republicans to pass the long-delayed national security supplemental spending bill, Kishida said Ukraine must continue to receive U.S. support in its resistance against Russian aggression.

“Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow,” Kishida said, drawing another standing ovation, though some Republicans, such as House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York, remained seated. “In this reality, close coordination between Japan and the U.S. is required more than ever.”

Roughly $60 billion in defense and economic aid for Ukraine is contained in the Senate-passed supplemental spending bill (HR 815) that House GOP leaders have not taken up.

Kishida flagged the $12 billion Ukraine assistance package that Tokyo recently announced, in coordination with NATO, even though Japan is not a member of the transatlantic military alliance.

Congressional reaction to the speech was largely positive.

“The U.S.-Japan alliance has never been stronger,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.,  a congressional leader on U.S.-Japan relations, whose parents and grandparents were ordered from their homes during World War II and placed in Japanese-American internment camps.

“I applaud Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s clear-eyed address to Congress that emphasized our shared responsibility to uphold our shared values in the face of rising aggression in the Indo-Pacific and across the globe,” he said.

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