Japan PM Tells US Congress that Aid for Ukraine is Vital

Japan PM Tells US Congress that Aid for Ukraine is Vital

Ukraine risks collapsing under Russia’s onslaught without US support, a disaster that could embolden China in its claims in the Western Pacific and spark a new crisis in East Asia, Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida told US lawmakers on Thursday. In the first joint speech by a Japanese leader in nine years, Fumio Kishida urged Americans not to doubt its “indispensable” role in world affairs and said Tokyo was undertaking historic military upgrades to support its ally.

President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion worth of aid to Ukraine has been stalled for weeks as the Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to allow a vote on an issue that has created division ahead of the November 5 presidential election.

“I want to address those Americans who feel the loneliness and exhaustion of being the country that has upheld the international order,” Kishida said, “The leadership of the United States is indispensable. Without US support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught of Moscow? Without the presence of the United States, how long before the Indo-Pacific would face even harsher realities?”

Addresses to joint meetings of the Senate and House of Representatives are an honor generally reserved for the closest US allies. They typically don’t occur more than once or twice a year. The last one was on July 19, 2023, and was a visit from Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Kishida is only the second Japanese PM ever to address a joint meeting. The first was his successor, Shinzo Abe.

His remarks were greeted several times by standing ovations, especially when he retold the years of his childhood spent in New York and the close ties between Tokyo and Washington.

Kishida stated that the world was at a “historic turning point,” with freedom and democracy under threat, emerging countries holding more economic power, climate change, and rapid advances in artificial intelligence disrupting people’s lives.

He also warned about North Korea’s nuclear program and exports of missiles to Russia for their war in Ukraine. However, he maintains that the biggest challenge democracy faces comes from China, he said.

“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. “Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow.”

Japan has consistently raised concerns about Chinese military activity close to its islands and Taiwan. Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, has raised its alert level ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. They are wary that Beijing might make a similar move on the island, though it has reported no signs of a coming invasion.

To stress the importance of Taiwan, Republican Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, brought Taiwan´s Representative to the United States, Alexander Yui, as his guest for  Kishida’s speech.

Asking about the speech data press briefing on Friday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said Japan was “playing up” security threats and “discrediting” its neighbors, and Beijing had lodged “solemn representations” with Tokyo.

Despite deep-rooted reservations in Japan about its militaristic past, Kishida said the country was embarking on a major shift in its defensive posture to support US efforts to ward off current threats.

“Japan has changed over the years. We have transformed ourselves from a reticent ally, recovering from the devastation of World War II to a strong, committed ally, looking outward to the world,” he said.

Japan’s pacifist constitution, adopted after its defeat in the Second World War, prohibits it from waging war or maintaining the means to do so. Still, successive administrations have slowly been degrading this restraint—plans unveiled at the end of 2022 to significantly beef up the military. Soon, Japan may become the world’s third-largest military spender. Kishida and Biden unveiled plans on Wednesday for military cooperation and projects ranging from missiles to moon landings, strengthening their alliance with an eye on countering China and Russia.

“On the spaceship called ‘Freedom and Democracy,’ Japan is proud to be your shipmate. We are on deck, we are on task. And we are ready to do what is necessary,” Kishida said.

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