Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scored points Wednesday in his speech to a Joint session of Congress when he thanked the U.S. for its Tsunami relief by quoting the lyrics of Carole King’s song “You’ve Got A Friend.”
“Yes, we’ve got a friend in you,” Abe said at the end of his address in the U.S. Capitol’s House chamber.
It might have been more appropriate for Abe to have quoted the lyrics of a similar song by singer Randy Newman called “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” The words go: “You got troubles and I got ’em too, There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, We stick together, we can see it through, ‘Cause you’ve got a friend in me.”
“We will support the U.S. first, last, and throughout,” Abe told the assembled lawmakers. “It is an alliance that is sturdy, bound in trust and friendship, deep between us.”
Abe’s words signaled Japan’s willingness to assume a key role in its own defense and as a global security player in the face of a more assertive China. In a clear reference to Beijing, the Japanese PM alluded to the “state of Asian waters” and extolled peaceful negotiations as a bridge over troubled waters, stressing that nations must not “use force or coercion to drive their claims.”
Abe’s address, the first by a Japanese leader to the U.S. Congress, coincided with a Reuters report that Japan’s Defense Agency is mulling the idea of conducting joint maritime air patrols with the U.S. in the South China Sea as Beijing deploys more ships and aircraft to back its territorial claims to a chain of resource-rich islets. The move would still require parliamentary approval.
Japan and the U.S. earlier this week unveiled new U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines that will allow Tokyo to provide military and logistical support to the U.S. far from Japanese shores. Abe’s cabinet took the unprecedented step in July of reinterpreting Japan’s pacifist-leaning post-war constitution to allow Japan’s military to aid the U.S. and other third countries that are under attack. The final legislation allowing for the exercise of such military options is expected to be passed this summer.
Abe voiced “eternal condolences” for the American lives lost in the war against Japan almost 70 years ago. But in a carefully angled speech, he avoided issuing a personal apology for the suffering that Japan’s military inflicted on other Asian countries and upheld statements on the issue made by prior Japanese prime ministers.
“Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries,” he said. “We must not avert our eyes from that.” Abe, whose U.S. visit stirred protests by South Korean and other U.S.-based groups, also ducked any direct reference to thousands of Korean and other Asian women who were forced to serve as “comfort women” at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. “Armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most,” Abe said in a veiled allusion to the issue.
The Japanese government has refused to publicly acknowledge the existence of such brothels. Abe has consistently downplayed references to Japan’s aggressive actions during World War II. He has also angered China, South Korea and other Asian countries by paying official and personal visits to Tokyo’s war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe was more forthright about the bilateral benefits of congressional approval of a U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) now being negotiated between Washington and Tokyo. The pact is slated to include 12 nations and will cover one-third of global trade. Abe characterized the TPP as “awesome” and stressed its strategic and economic value to the U.S. Congress.
“The goal is near,” Abe said, referring to the U.S.-Japan TPP talks which are in the final stages. “Let us bring the TPP to a successful conclusion through our joint leadership.”
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