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Public Statements

The Visit Of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today I extend my welcome to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who is making his first trip to the United States as Prime Minister this week.

The U.S. Japan alliance has been one of the great successes of the postwar era, and Japan's remarkable achievements and constructive role in world affairs over the past 60 years are a great testament to the Japanese people. As the world's two wealthiest democracies, the U.S. and Japan, have a shared interest in promoting security and prosperity in Asia and around the world--shared interests that rest on a bedrock of shared values: in democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and free markets.

As one of America's closest allies, Japan today plays a vital role in working with the United States in maintaining regional security and stability, promoting prosperity, and meeting the new security challenges of the 21st century.

Japan's role in the Six Party Talks--supporting efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and return to the nonproliferation treaty and IAE safeguards--has been essential. And beyond North Korea, Japan today is playing a leading role in the architecture of the Asia-Pacific region, including participating in peace keeping operations, and
in building stable and enduring structures for cooperative regional security.

In the face of such threats as North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, Japan, in partnership with the United States, has also sought to reinvigorate its security profile in the region. Japan's efforts to develop a more capable Self-Defense Forces, as well as the Prime Minister's elevation of the Japan Defense Agency to a Ministry, are, in my view, both to be welcomed as signs of a ``normal'' Japan, able and willing to play a leading and responsible role in the region.

The U.S.-Japan alliance must remain at the core of efforts to revitalize Japan's role in ensuing stability and security in the region. One key aspect of this effort is the realignment of forces currently in Japan, making certain that America's ability to respond to threats in the region is not diminished.

Japan has shown that it is not only playing a responsible leadership role in its own region, but globally as well.

The occasion of the Prime Minister's visit provides an opportunity for the people of the United States to express our deep appreciation to Japan for its contributions to our efforts to combat al-Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations. In Afghanistan, Japan has donated over $1 billion in development funds to rebuild vital infrastructure precisely the sort of effort to transform the environment in Afghanistan that will be key to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And Japan has provided critical support--often
unseen--in multilateral efforts to thwart the growth of terrorist organizations in Southeast Asia.

Japan has also proved to be an invaluable partner in providing humanitarian response and relief in the Southeast Asia. Japan joined with the United States in responding to the tragic December 2005 tsunami, and has worked with others across the region to develop an effective tsunami early warning system.

And Japan has worked with the United States and others in the international community to develop the infrastructure and institutions we need in order to face new transnational challenges like the threat of avian influenza. Also, although Japan's foreign assistance level declined earlier in the decade, as part of the 2005 G8 global development discussions, Japan announced it would increase foreign aid by $10 billion in aggregate over the next 5 years, and double its assistance to Africa over the next 3 years.

With newspaper headlines that remind us on a daily basis of the risk the planet faces from climate change, we must also recognize the critical leadership role in the international community that Japan has played on environmental issues and climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto in 1997, has now been ratified by over 160 nations.

Japan has also played a key role in forging the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, through which the U.S., Japan, and others in the region seek to marshal the scientific and technical expertise needed to develop cleaner and more efficient technologies and bring about a carbon-neutral Asia-Pacific region without sacrificing economic growth.

As the world's second-largest economy, Japan is a vital source of growth and dynamism for the rest of the world. In this regard, the reemergence of Japan from its ``lost decade'' of virtually no economic growth is a most welcome development.

There is nonetheless still more Japan can do at home to improve the structure of its economy, from removing regulations that stifle business competition and innovation to further develop Tokyo as a global financial market. And the Japanese economy is still not open enough to imports in key sectors or to foreign direct investment. The United States has an interest in seeing Japan address these challenges so that the Japanese economy can continue to play a leading role in sustaining global economic growth.

Although not without its challenges--as is natural in any normal bilateral relationship--the United States and Japan today have a strong and deep relationship and the basis for close cooperation and partnership which will allow us to work together to meet the challenges of the decades ahead.

But I would be remiss in my duties as a friend of Japan if I did not note that for Japan to be able to play a leading role in Asia and be perceived by its neighbors as a ``normal'' nation it must deal forthrightly with its history. It is important for Japan to face these issue fully, openly, and honestly. A Japan that is mindful of its past can and should play a leading role in Asia's future.

So let me, in turn, close with some thoughts on the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

First, I believe that it is important for Americans, so used to a close partnership with Japan, to embrace the complex realities of a Japan that is a ``normal nation''--one that has its own identity, vision, and goals. Such a Japan should be welcomed by the United States as a true partner and friend, even while understanding that it may mean that there will be differences on certain issues.

Given the new regional realities, United States can no longer take managing the U.S.-Japan alliance for granted.

Second, although the U.S.-Japan relationship remains the centerpiece of both U.S. and Japanese policy in the Asia-Pacific region, in recent years the Bush administration has let its attention to this critical relationship drift as it has been distracted by other issues.

The alliance demands, and is deserving of, close political cooperation and coordination at every level, reflecting the key role Japan plays as an anchor of U.S. economic and security interests in the region and across the globe.

Third, recognizing the important role that Japan now plays around the globe--on peacekeeping, economic development, global warming and new transnational threats--I believe the time has long since passed for Japan to have a role commensurate with its responsibilities, including in the U.N. Security Council.

The visit of Prime Minister Abe provides us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the U.S.-Japan partnership, with the same spirit that has governed our relations for over 60 years. America benefits greatly from a close and productive partnership with a Japan that is confident about its future and willing and able to play a leading role in creating a peaceful and prosperous Asia.

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