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Japan's Prime Minister Makes Historic Address To Congress

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is greeted by members before speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, the first Japanese prime minister to do so.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is greeted by members before speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, the first Japanese prime minister to do so.

In a historic address to Congress, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out his vision for a stronger alliance with the U.S. and expressed condolences for his country's behavior during World War II.

Abe received a standing ovation as he entered the House chamber and shook hands with several lawmakers. He is the first Japanese Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress, and his speech caps several days of high-profile meetings and agreements that bolster Japan's standing as America's closest Asian ally. Abe called it an alliance of hope.

"Let the two of us, America and Japan, join our hands together and do our best to make the world a better, a much better, place to live," he said.

As NPR reported earlier, Japan and the U.S. signed a new defense agreement earlier this week. On Tuesday, Abe had a summit with President Obama, followed by a lavish state dinner.

Abe's address to Congress focused on the long relationship between Japan and the U.S., going back to when the two countries were enemies during World War II. Abe told lawmakers that during his visit to Washington, D.C., he went to the World War II memorial on the National Mall. He said he stood in silence there for some time.

"History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone," Abe said, adding, "I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II."

Abe's speech was delivered 70 years after the end of World War II, and from the same spot where President Franklin Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Imperial Japan after it bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, according to Reuters.

There were calls from Korean groups and others for Abe to apologize for the sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Asian women by Japan's army during the war. Abe acknowledged Japan's actions brought suffering to the people in Asian countries, saying, "We must not avert our eyes from that." But the prime minister did not extend an apology.

Abe chose to look to the future, seeking support from Congress for the enormous 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is seen as a hedge against China's growing economic power in Asia.

Japan and the U.S. are locked in tough, final stages of negotiations in the agreement. It's hoped Abe's high-profile visit to the U.S. will help seal the deal.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.