Shinzo Abe addresses Joint Session of Congress

In Japan


This morning Shinzo Abe became the first Prime Minister to address a joint session of Congress. He’s not the first Prime Minister to speak in the chamber – Nobusuke Kishi (also Abe’s grandfather) spoke to the House on June 20, 1957 and Hayato Ikeda spoke to the House on June 22, 1961. But Abe is the first to address both chambers.

In the hours leading up to the speech, some important things happened: South Korea’s Embassy in Washington issued a press release on the updated US-Japan Defense guidelines. South Korea’s defense ministry was ambivalent about the new guidelines – VOA said the guidelines would help it’s defenses against threats, but that officials are reluctant to endorse them because of lingering issues of World War II. North Korea’s official news agency, meanwhile, condemned the new guidelines that allow Japan to exercise “collective self-defense,” calling it a threat to the Korean peninsula and the stability of the region.

Later on, Democracy Now! hosted peace activist Kozuke Akibayashi, the newly elected president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to talk about the new guidelines

Around the same time the program aired, Reuters released an exclusive report saying Japan’s military will participate in joint air-patrols of the South China Sea with the United States.

And just before the speech, Abe visited the World War II memorial in Washington and laid a wreath in remembrance.

 The speech took place in the House of Representatives at 11 a. m. local time. I live-tweeted the speech (which Abe delivered in English) and retweeted (at my twitter @oconn270 choice quotes from Abe’s global communications director Kenko Sone (@KenkoSone)

(full transcript)

Probably the most noticed lines are going to be these:

When I was young in high school and listened to the radio, there was a song that flew out and shook my heart.

It was a song by Carol King.

“When you’re down and troubled, …close your eyes and think of me, and I’ll be there to brighten up even your darkest night.”

And that day, March 11, 2011, a big quake, a tsunami, and a nuclear accident hit the northeastern part of Japan.

The darkest night fell upon Japan.

But it was then we saw the U.S. armed forces rushing to Japan to the rescue at a scale never seen or heard before.

Lots and lots of people from all corners of the U.S. extended the hand of assistance to the children in the disaster areas.

Yes, we’ve got a friend in you.

In Asia, this passage is most likely the one everyone will pay attention to:

Post war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war. Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard.

Yesterday at a joint press conference between Abe and Obama on the White House Lawn (full transcript of that via the White House) he was a little more detailed on this issue, particularly on comfort women:

On the issue of comfort women, I am deeply pained to think about the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking.  This is a feeling that I share equally with my predecessors.  The Abe Cabinet upholds the Kono Statement and has no intention to revise it.  Based on this position, Japan has made various efforts to provide realistic relief for the comfort women.

What Abe’s referring to is a statement made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on Aug. 4, 1993:

   As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.

Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.

We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterate our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.

While it probably won’t be covered as much in the media, this line sticks out to me:

the Japanese, ever since they started modernization, have seen the very foundation for democracy in that famous line in the Gettysburg Address.

The son of a farmer-carpenter can become the President… The fact that such a country existed woke up the Japanese of the late 19th century to democracy.

PM Abe saw the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial when he visited there two days ago. I’m not sure what he’s referring to since he doesn’t quote the address (and the words “foundation” or “democracy” do not appear in the speech). Abe is certainly referring to Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham Lincoln, who was a farmer and a carpenter, but I’m not quite sure what he means by this.

In the United States, coverage of the speech has been overshadowed by the riots in Baltimore – President Obama answered questions about it in the joint press conference with Abe (saying at one point “I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us.”), but the speech will get more coverage in Asia, where Time says Abe should bring his message.

EDIT: One more observation: This line from Abe’s speech was met with applause from the Democrats’ side of the isle, and near silence from the Republicans.

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