By Todd Crowell
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has capped an eight-day state visit to the United States with a historic speech to a joint session of Congress.
It was consequential in that the premier was the first Japanese to speak to the combined houses — standing in the very spot where President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan in 1941.
Ostensibly aimed at an American audience, his words were watched closely and parsed tightly in Japan and the rest of Asia.
“History is harsh,” Abe said, in probably the speech’s most memorable phrase.
“What is done cannot be undone. I offer eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II.”
Much of the region was eager to learn what the prime minister had to say on the touchy topic of Japan’s role in that war, as Abe is known to hold revisionist views.
This was underscored by his high profile visit in late 2013 to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of Japanese leaders convicted of waging aggressive war are enshrined.
He has refrained from repeating the visit, although several cabinet members did only days before the trip.
Abe’s speech seemed to be carefully calibrated for his American audience, who are not overly demanding of apologies in the same way that China and South Korea are. One such was the “comfort women” issue of forced prostitution.
The issue drew a couple hundred Korean-American protesters outside of the capital but no untoward outbursts in the chamber, where Abe received several standing ovations.
His sole acknowledgement was that war is hard on women.
He moved quickly to other themes of more direct bearing on the current U.S.-Japan relationship. He urged Congress to give its support to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade zone of 12 Asia-Pacific nation.
It was a timely subject considering that Congress is currently debating giving President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to complete the negotiations and then forward it to Congress which can either approve or defeat the deal in a vote without amendments.
Abe noted that how as a young member of parliament, he was a staunch defender of agricultural protection.
Now he says that Japanese farmers, now averaging 66 in age, must learn to adapt to the new times.
He flattered the American lawmakers by noting how many former Congressional heavyweights, such as former speaker Tom Foley and vice president Walter Mondale, had served as U.S. ambassadors to Japan (present Ambassador Caroline Kennedy is not a former member, but nevertheless a political celebrity).
He welcomed the new mutual defense guidelines that were finalized and announced during his trip. Carefully synchronized with new laws governing the self-defense forces that will be submitted to Japan’s parliament this month, they turn a quasi-alliance into a real one.
“The time has come for the US-Japan alliance to face-up to and jointly tackle those [security] challenges that are new,” the prime minister said. (Anadolu Ajansi)