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Popular Overseas, Can Kishida Lead Japan to Become a Beacon of Hope?

Kishida expressed Japan's solidarity with the US in defending "freedom, democracy, and the rule of law," earning standing ovations from American lawmakers.



Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gives a speech at a joint session of the United States Congress on April 11 in Washington. (©Kyodo)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's address to the joint session of the United States Congress on April 11 was frankly astonishing. Kishida garnered 16 standing ovations and thunderous applause from American lawmakers, a scene seldom witnessed in Japan.

This occasion marked the first time in nine years that a Japanese prime minister had addressed the US Congress. In the previous instance, the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the Japan-US relationship as an "alliance of hope" in his address.

Considering Kishida isn't exactly known for his oratory skills, what factors contributed to such an enthusiastic reception from American legislators?

The full text of Kishida's speech is available on JAPAN Forward.

An Ally Across the Seas

Kishida's speech commenced with personal anecdotes of his childhood living in New York, including stories of receiving help from American friends. With occasional humor, Kishida underscored Japan's postwar commitment to "the defense of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law" shared with the United States. He urged Japan to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America as "a shipmate" upholding these values.

Kishida also addressed support for Ukraine, which has become a contentious issue in the United States. He stated, "Japan will continue to stand with Ukraine."

Emphasizing the shared responsibility of Japan and the US in confronting aggression and nuclear threats, Kishida portrayed the countries as "global partners for the future." Offering unequivocal support, he delivered a powerful message: "Japan is already standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. You are not alone. We are with you." 

He added, "Japan believes in US leadership."

PM Kishida speaks before a Joint Session of the United States Congress, April 11. (©Kyodo)

Bipartisan Praise

I couldn't help but be further impressed reading our Washington correspondent Kazuyuki Sakamoto's analysis of the reactions from US lawmakers.

Concerns from some conservative Republicans caused extended debate about additional US military aid to Ukraine. However, Kishida's stance aligned with coordinating efforts with the US in supporting Ukraine. 

His address received bipartisan praise from both Democrats and Republicans. As Representative Stephanie Bice (Republican, Oklahoma) put it, "These are messages I think [...] the American people needed to hear."

Democrat Representative Sheila Jackson Lee said, "This is the most effective partnership speech that I've heard from a leader, but [it's] from Japan's leader.

Similarly, Democrat Senator Chris Coons described Kishida's address as "very timely and powerful." 

US Vice President Kamala Harris and US House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) applaud as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington. April 11, 2024. (©REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

The Dawn of a New Era?

While Kishida's speech doesn't overcome the political divides in the US, its reception highlights a pivotal moment in Japan-US relations. 

A Japanese prime minister's address within the bastion of American democracy, articulating a vision for global progress, garnered significant praise. This suggests that Japan-US relations have entered a new dimension.

During Kishida's visit, both nations affirmed their commitment to bolstering security cooperation to counter China's march toward hegemony.

Additionally, they signed agreements spanning various domains including cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence and semiconductors. They also agreed to collaborate on space exploration and fostering cultural and youth exchanges.

Notably, the visit also marked the inaugural trilateral summit of Japan, the United States, and the Philippines. In an article following the summit, political commentator Hiroshi Yuasa speculated on the gradual emergence of an "Asian NATO" in response to China's escalating aggression against its neighbors.

In an increasingly turbulent global landscape, Japan must answer the call to become a beacon of hope. However, questions loom regarding whether PM Kishida can survive with his current low approval ratings at home. 

Has Mr Kishida turned over a new leaf as a leader with his address? JAPAN Forward will closely monitor how the Prime Minister tackles Japan's pressing issues. 


Watch for the next issue on May 27.

JAPAN Forward is now in its seventh year. Join us as we continue to share the true face of Japan with the world. For inquiries, please call 0570-033-433 (Sankei iD) or email us at info@japan-forward.com.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Yasuo Naito, Editor in Chief, JAPAN Forward