Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a State Luncheon in Honor of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Evan and I are so honored to join Vice President Harris, Second Gentleman Emhoff in welcoming you to the State Department.  We’re delighted to be joined by a remarkable group of colleagues, friends, and dignitaries, and a special salute to our colleagues from Congress who are here.

We just witnessed a remarkable speech.  I think it may be as well the first time that anyone speaking before a joint session has managed to reference the Flintstones.  (Laughter.)  More about that later.

Now, the very first time the United States had the honor of hosting a delegation from Japan was in 1860.  Their journey then took three months to get here.  On arriving, they were received first at the White House, then the State Department, for what I’m told was a boisterous dinner fueled by champagne, music, and dancing.  We’ll see what we can do about that.  (Laughter.)  The Japanese delegation observed a debate in the United States Senate, and at the U.S. Naval Observatory, they gazed through a telescope for their first-ever close-up view of the surface of the moon.

From the time of that inaugural diplomatic mission, generations of Americans and Japanese had their horizons expanded by the exchange between our countries.  Since Tokyo’s mayor donated the first cherry trees – we’ve heard a lot about cherry trees in the last couple of days – to our nation’s capital over a century ago, their blossoms are a way that many of us mark the beginning of another spring – a reminder of our friendship and its immeasurable impact on our people and on the entire world.  I shared with the prime minister yesterday that people come from across the United States to Washington because of the cherry trees.  It’s a remarkable thing that this has become one of the most powerful symbols of our capital, and it’s thanks to Japan.

Over these past three years, we have had invested tremendous energy into making this relationship between our countries even stronger.  We’ve bolstered our security cooperation and increased our cooperation on renewable energy.  We’re deepening collaboration on artificial intelligence, on quantum computing, and on other technologies that will shape the 21st century.  Together with India and Australia, we’ve revitalized the Quad.  We’ve elevated trilateral cooperation with the Republic of Korea to unprecedented levels.  Today, we’re taking a similarly ambitious step with the Philippines.

We’re leading the G7 in meeting the fundamental challenges of our time, from helping the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia’s war of aggression to helping countries around the world build infrastructure vital to expanding opportunity.  We’re standing side by side to defend a free and open international order that for decades has bolstered our shared security and prosperity.  And we’ve done all this in partnership with a son of Hiroshima, which speaks to the spirit of healing and regeneration that animates this exceptional relationship.

Of course, the ties that bind us have been forged not only by our governments but principally by generations of Japanese and Americans from all walks of life.  And like the saplings that were brought here by the prime minister, these relationships took root, they grew, and they branched out in ways that were probably impossible to predict.

In 1872, it was an American schoolteacher who introduced baseball to Japan.  He taught at Kaisei Academy, the same high school where the prime minister would eventually play second base.  (Laughter.)  Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, The Seven Samurai, inspired one of our great westerns, The Magnificent Seven.  Decades later, the American best picture, Unforgiven, was remade in Japan with a cowboy traded in for a samurai in imperial Japan.

In 1963, a Japanese trade official named Kishida Fumitake was posted in New York City, and brought along his then-six-year-old son, Fumio.  The future prime minister later said that his struggles at that time to express himself in a new and unfamiliar language, taught him – and I quote – the importance of listening, especially to those whose voices often go unheard, and first inspired him to dream of a career in politics.  I think anyone who heard the prime minister speak last night at the White House and today before our Congress know how he’s mastered the ability to speak to people but also, based on what he says so clearly, to listen to them.  This is a man of not only extraordinary leadership but deep empathy that’s reflected in his leadership.

Not far from here at the Smithsonian’s Modern Art Museum, the record for the two most popular exhibits are held by the same artist – Yayoi Kusama.  Many of you have seen these installations, her Infinity Mirror Rooms, where bright glowing polka-dotted covered orbs seem to extend on forever.  Early in her career, Kusama wrote a letter to the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe looking for advice.  She dreamed of moving to New York, but felt daunted.  O’Keefe wrote back to her:  Make the leap.  Kusama did, and the rest is truly infinity.

These threads that connect our people, connect our cultures through time, they feel a little bit like Kusama’s installations, spreading with radiant, glowing ties as far as the eye can see, including into space, where we’re working together on everything from running an International Space Station to using the James Webb telescope to better understand how our universe was formed in the first place.

And now more than 160 years after that first Japanese delegation came to the United States and looked at the Naval Observatory through a telescope at the moon, we’ve agreed to be the first two nations to step foot on its surface together – and drive around on it, too.  We have a lunar rover that Japan is building, a model of which you’ll be able to see when you walk out of the State Department today.

So please join me in raising a glass.  Thank you very much.  To all the places we can imagine our extraordinary friendship will take us, and even more, to all the places we cannot even imagine in this moment going, but where we know our determination, our innovation, and especially our friendship and cooperation will one day allow us to walk together.  Cheers.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure for me to hand the microphone over to someone who as Vice President made her very first trip – foreign trip in that capacity – to the Indo-Pacific, someone who has been leading our efforts these past three years to deepen, to strengthen our ties to our most critical partners in the world.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.


(The Vice President makes remarks.)


PRIME MINISTER KISHIDA: (Via interpreter) The Honorable Kamala Harris, Vice President; Second Gentleman, Mr. Emhoff; Secretary Blinken, Secretary of State; Cabinet Secretary Ryan, distinguished guests:  thank you for hosting this luncheon.

The script my staff drafted for this luncheon speech starts with the sentence, “Yesterday I had a fruitful discussion with President Biden.”  Quote/unquote “fruitful discussion” is a cliché diplomats like to use.  When I was foreign minister, oh, did I hear that phrase over and over again until I almost got tired of it.  I also note that when a diplomat says, “Hmm, that’s interesting,” more likely than not that person is thinking, “How boring.”

But there’s one thing I need to make clear.  Yesterday President Biden and I literally had a truly fruitful discussion.  And I say literally.  (Applause.)  The President and I reaffirmed the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance.  I will continue to work closely with the President to actively contribute to peace, stability, and prosperity of the world we live in.

The success of the summit would not have been possible without the hard work by the Honorable Vice President, Secretary Blinken, and the collection of competent people on your team to whom we must thank with a great round of applause.  (Applause.)

Let me quote a phrase in the Old Testament, Proverbs 27: “Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  Ask an expert what this means, and you will be listening to a lecture until sunset.  I interpret this phrase to mean that when people with diverse values and ideas compete against and sharpen each other, something better is created.

That, indeed, is the force behind diversity – America’s strength that I encountered in New York in my childhood days – and is the power of Team Biden, I believe.

As I look back when I was little living in New York, I feel that the philosophy and the words delivered vigorously by President Kennedy in his inaugural address most resonated among other grownups back then.  “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”  This is a passage from the inaugural address.  Because of this liberty, we are able to leverage diversity as the engine to drive ourselves forward.

Indeed, only because both Japan and the U.S. enjoy the liberty and are open and frank with each other, their people successful in broad and diverse areas – just like yourselves here today – we’re able to overcome differences in opinions or positions, we’re able to deepen mutual understanding and have produced the engine power to advance the Japan-U.S. relationship forward.

Let us continue to do so as we have done so far, but for the moment just let us enjoy the lunch.  The unwavering Japan-U.S. relationship of today is all due to your passion and your contribution.  Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank you all once again.

May I conclude my greetings by praying for the continued success of you all and for the further deepening of the Japan-U.S. relationship.  May I also raise a glass with you all, together with myself, for the U.S.-Japan relationship and for a bright future of our relationship and for each and every one of you.  Please do continue your success and prosperity.  (Applause.)

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS