30.04.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the speech of the Prime Minister of Japan to the U.S. Congress

On the speech of the Prime Minister of Japan to the U.S. Congress

The topic of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit to the U.S., which took place from April 8 to April 14 and was earlier described in the NEO, deserves another discussion. This is in order to dwell in more detail on one of the centerpieces of this unprecedentedly long trip, which was the guest’s speech at a joint session of both houses of Congress.

This speech was the second in the last few decades of U.S.-Japan relations. The previous one took place quite a long time ago, namely in April 2015, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the US parliamentarians, in whose government, incidentally, the same Fumio Kishida served as Foreign Minister. Commentators note a marked difference in the central message of the two speeches, including matters concerning the now key ally of Japan, who 80 years ago, was Tokyo’ greatest enemy.

Shinzo Abe’s speech of almost ten years ago can be regarded as the outcome of a long discussion in Japanese politics on the causes of the armed conflict that broke out in the Pacific and then became part of the Second World War, as well as the degree of Japan’s guilt in unleashing it and the casualties suffered. Speaking before the plenipotentiaries of the descendants of former enemies, Mr. Abe outlined a final assessment of the long and multi-stage postwar process of the transition of relations between the United States and Japan from a “winner-take-all” state to the format of a military-political alliance, from which, under the so-called “Yoshida Doctrine”, Japan has derived (contrary to the propaganda nonsense about “American occupation”) very considerable and varied benefits.

But since the aforementioned speech by Shinzo Abe, so many different things (mostly negative) have happened on the international stage in general, not to mention in the specific positioning of both the U.S. and Japan on these events, that it is no longer time for historical exercises. Although they were also outlined in Fumio Kishida’s speech as a “dotted line”. Generally speaking, public discourse on history, which is one of the most complex branches of scientific knowledge of the world around us, is better left to professionals.

Today, Tokyo can’t help but be primarily concerned about the current harsh realities. Among them, one of the main ones is caused by the increasingly visible signs of internal political degradation of Japan’s key ally, under whose wing, we repeat, Tokyo was so cozy and warm over the last 60-70 years. This is occurring against the background of the de facto transformation of neighboring China into a second world power, whose relations with Japan are under the influence of a number of contradictory factors, discussed more than once in the NEO.

Therefore, it is increasingly necessary for Japan to rely on itself to solve the problem of ensuring its national interests. This is a troublesome and expensive business, and the necessary “skills” for this have been lost to no small extent during the period of Japanese economic prosperity. Moreover, within Japan itself, very real problems have emerged that require urgent intervention. Of these, almost the main issue is the progressing depopulation of the country. Sociological surveys show a growing pessimistic mood in Japanese society, especially among young people.

Under these conditions, keeping the main post-war foreign policy pillar “in working order” becomes extremely important. As a result, the Japanese prime minister, who got an opportunity (which is, we repeat, extremely rare) to address the legislators of its key ally, had to play the role of a psychotherapist conducting a session of wellness hypnosis in relation to a patient in a state of deep internal depression. As stated in one of the comments the guest spoke amid “deep pessimism in Congress about the very need for U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific region,” where the situation is constantly escalating.

In order to get the listeners out of this mood, the speaker would make passes with his hands in front of their faces, accompanying these gestures with soothing words: “Don’t worry and don’t doubt for a minute. You have had great things in the past and, despite opposition from the wrong people, there are equally glorious accomplishments awaiting you in the future. You have everything you need for that. And we, your closest friends and helpers, will assist you in every possible way.”

It should be said that this “therapy” made a most positive impression on the “patient”, so that at its conclusion the “doctor” was honored with public signs of gratitude from representatives of both seemingly irreconcilable political factions gathered in the plenary session hall. In their eyes, the speaker looked almost like a messiah who had descended from Heaven.

Those interested can read the full text of Fumio Kishida’s lengthy speech. Here, however, let us draw attention to a few seemingly noteworthy theses.

Of these, the keynote which determined all the rest was the thesis that labeled China as “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.” Therefore, in the speaker’s view, “the world needs the United States to continue playing this pivotal role in the affairs of nations.” “And yet,” continued Mr. Kishida, “as we meet here today, I detect an undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what your role in the world should be.”

In doing so, he expressed an understanding of “those Americans who feel the loneliness and exhaustion of being the country that has upheld the international order almost singlehandedly.” Adding, however, that “the leadership of the United States is indispensable.” In particular, regarding the Ukrainian conflict, a rhetorical question was asked: “Without U.S. support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught from Moscow?”

The author of this article has to admit that the speech of the Prime Minister of Japan to the American Congress turned out to be one of the most carefully calibrated public statements of recent years from politicians of this level. Moreover, it was masterfully executed. It combined clarity of purpose, elements of coldly restrained emotionality, and consideration of the audience’s moods.

Again, the speech made a strong impression on the listeners, and not just during the actual event itself. It seems certain that a week later it played a very prominent role in the dramatic change in Congress’ position on the issue of financial aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Mr. Kishida’s final sentences had included words that were almost literally reproduced one week later (about ‘the greatness of America who is destined to be a ‘global leader’). A number of European “suppliants” were also making pilgrimages to Washington for the same reason, however, without visible (at least to the outside eye) results.

The reaction expressed (both graphically and textually) by the main object of concern of the Japanese Prime Minister to his trip to the United States as a whole, as well as to his publicly voiced initial thesis about the “Chinese threat,” is understandable. However, the same graphic also reflected somewhat different assessments of the state of relations between the two main foreign policy opponents of China. In this author’s opinion, the second illustration corresponds better to the dynamics of U.S.-Japanese relations.

In this context, the speech to the U.S. Congress by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was a notable milestone. But it is just a phase, as there will probably be many more unexpected and no less significant events to come, both within Japan itself and in its relations with all the major regional players.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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