Japanese PM Fumio Kishida addresses U.S. 'self-doubt' about world role in remarks to Congress

WASHINGTON — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asserted in an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday that his country stands with the U.S. at a time when history is at a turning point.

Kishida said the U.S. held a certain reputation decades ago that “shaped the international order” and “championed freedom and democracy.

“You believed that freedom is the oxygen of humanity,” he said. “The world needs the United States to continue playing this pivotal role in the affairs of nations. And yet, as we meet here today, I detect an undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what your role in the world should be.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Kishida said that this is happening when the world is “at history’s turning point” as “freedom and democracy are currently under threat around the globe,” climate change is causing natural disasters, and technology such as artificial intelligence is advancing.

Japan is facing “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge” from China,” the prime minister said. He also spoke about the threats from North Korea and from Russia in Ukraine.

“Ladies and gentlemen, as the United States’ closest friend, tomodachi, the people of Japan are with you, side by side, to assure the survival of liberty,” he said. “Not just for our people, but for all people.”

He continued, “I am here to say that Japan is already standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. You are not alone. We are with you.”

The prime minister shared that he has felt a special connection to the U.S. after attending the first three years of elementary school in Queens.

We arrived in the fall of 1963, and for several years my family lived like Americans,” he said. “My father would take the subway to Manhattan where he worked as a trade official. We rooted for the Mets and the Yankees, and ate hot dogs at Coney Island. On vacation, we would go to Niagara Falls or here to Washington, D.C.”

Kishida’s address marked only the second time that Japan’s prime minister formally delivered remarks to Congress. The first was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2015, and Kishida was in attendance for that speech as a foreign minister. Abe was assassinated in 2022. The last foreign leader to address lawmakers was Israeli President Isaac Herzog in July 2023.

Thursday’s address also marked the first joint meeting with a foreign leader since Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., took the gavel. Vice President Kamala Harris also presided over the chamber during the speech.

Congressional leaders had invited Kishida to speak to both chambers in early March, with Johnson saying in a statement that it was part of an effort to lay “the foundation for collaboration in the years to come.”

Before the address, Kishida met in a room just off the House chamber floor with the Big Four congressional leaders: Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. They didn’t take any questions but Johnson joked to Kishida that he brought along a large press corps from Japan.

“Japan is a close ally — critical to both our national and economic security,” added Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “This visit will continue to deepen the diplomatic and security relationship between our two countries and build on the strength of decades of cooperation.”

The visit is notable as Republicans, especially those in the House, resist providing foreign aid to places including Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan; countering China has been a big focus of Kishida’s visit to the U.S.

“China’s current external stance and military actions present an unprecedented and 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,” Kishida said.

He added: “Russia’s unprovoked, unjust and brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has entered its third year. As I often say, Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow.”

Before the invitation was extended to Kishida, the Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged Johnson to formally ask the Japanese leader to speak to Congress, saying in a letter that it would “signal congressional support for this critical alliance and help Members of Congress understand its importance to the economic and strategic interests of the United States.”

After the address, the vice president and Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted a luncheon with Kishida at the State Department.

In the late afternoon, Kishida participated in the inaugural U.S.-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit at the White House, meeting with both President Joe Biden and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines.

During that meeting, Biden called U.S. defense commitments to Japan and the Philippines “ironclad.”

“Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” Biden said.

In his remarks, Biden also highlighted technology and clean energy as areas for the “deepening ties” between the three nations.

“We’re securing our semiconductor supply chain,” he said, adding that the United States is expanding telecommunications in the Philippines.

On Wednesday, Biden and Kishida announced plans to improve the U.S. military command structure in Japan, which hosts about 54,000 U.S. personnel. The two countries will also form a military-industrial council to explore the kinds of weapons they can jointly produce.

The White House hosted a state dinner for Japan’s leader later that night, whose guests included former President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton as well as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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