Remarks at a Luncheon in Honor of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
April 28, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Please be seated. Konnichiwa, youkoso. I’m honored to welcome everybody here. Thank you very much for joining us. We have an extraordinary, distinguished group of guests – Mr. Prime Minister among them – several former Secretaries of State – I know you can see Dr. Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell – and we’re very honored to have all of you here. Thank you very much for being with us. (Applause.)

So Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President, and distinguished representatives of Japan, honored guests, it is really wonderful to welcome everybody here to the Ben Franklin room. And we can tell from the very warm feelings of the last couple of days – we were in Boston on Sunday night, and then yesterday here in Washington – it is clear that both of our ambassadors are doing a great job. So I want to say thank you to America’s terrific ambassador to Tokyo, Caroline Kennedy – thank you – (applause) – and to her counterpart, who represents Japan brilliantly in Washington, Taishi Kenichiro Sasae. (Applause.)

Last Sunday night, Teresa and I had the pleasure of hosting the prime minister and his wife at our home in Boston, a city where Japan has had an honored place in every heart, at least since Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to end the 2013 World Series. (Laughter and applause.) I think we are – we’re all very, very aware that the visit of Japan’s prime minister to America this week is not just another round of bilateral diplomacy. The state dinner tonight, the prime minister’s address, the first ever of a prime minister of Japan to a joint session of the United States Congress, the new milestone that we announced yesterday in our defense cooperation, and the Vice President’s role here today – these are honors that we reserve for our most important diplomatic relationships. And that is the way it should be, because the relationship of our two countries – what we have forged in the past years – seven decades – is truly extraordinary.

From adversaries to allies; from a climate of suspicion to one of abiding trust. We have built a friendship that has provided immeasurable benefits to both countries and yielded enormous dividends across the globe. During those 70 years – and not every step, everybody knows, has been easy; our countries are very different in history, in culture, in language, in customs. And we both have vibrant democracies in which many voices are heard. But because we have learned well both the lessons of war and the possibilities of peace, we’ve been able to foster a spirit of cooperation that extends to every category of international affairs, and we have really in many ways just begun, we think. Our private sectors are already deeply entwined, but today we’re on the threshold of agreeing to a landmark trade and investment regime, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that will elevate labor and environment standards across 40 percent of the global economy.

On the environment, the very name of Boston’s sister city, Kyoto, reminds us of where the international effort to curb climate change began. But we are determined to move far beyond that visionary start to achieve a truly comprehensive and meaningful agreement in Paris this December, and we are pleased that Japan has indicated its desire to achieve that agreement and its willingness to contribute significantly to it.

On health, Japan and the United States were both early contributors to the international response on Ebola. And when the crisis began, we didn’t leave; instead, we both continued to work with local partners to improve West Africa’s fragile health infrastructure and to prevent future outbreaks. In fact, I’d just comment – many people have lost sight of that, but last fall the predictions were that a million people were going to die. And in the face of that, President Obama made an extraordinarily courageous decision to send 3,000-plus of our armed forces there to begin to build the infrastructure to be able to fight back, and it has made all the difference.

On security, our collaboration has been a stabilizing force for decades, making it possible for the region’s economies to flourish. But we are poised to do even more. The revised defense guidelines that we announced yesterday – the first in 17 years – establish important new frontiers for our alliance. Meanwhile, Japan has been playing a major supporting role in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a strong backer of efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to restore a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. As a member of the G7, it has been firm in insisting on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.

And like the citizens of the United States, Japan and its people stand for everything that terrorist groups are against. Make no mistake, we have not and we will not forget the tragic loss of Kenji Goto or Haruna Yukawa, who were murdered by the thugs of Daesh in retribution for Japan’s pledge of humanitarian assistance – I repeat, humanitarian assistance – to the victims of fighting in the Middle East.

The alliance between the United States and Japan is grounded in shared interests, and there can be no doubt about that. But more essential by far are the values that we share in support of democracy: A love of justice, respect for the rule of law, and a sense of compassion and caring for other people. We are strengthened as well by the fact that we have long since ceased to be strangers. It’s not only our prime ministers and presidents who visit one another. Our businesspeople, our teachers, our researchers, our tourists, our pop stars, our athletes, even our celebrity chefs travel back and forth, learning about each other and forging unbreakable bonds. There are some 40 Japan-American societies in the United States, more than 10,000 alumni of U.S. Government-sponsored exchange program, and hundreds of thousands more who have attended class in each other’s schools and universities. Among those who have crossed the Pacific are more than 100 State Department employees who while in Japan taught English through the JET program and, of course, our honored guest Prime Minister Abe, who studied public policy at USC.

In closing, let me just say that in a world that has more than its share of harsh disagreements and challenges today, it is really good to be able to have a lunch like this where we can celebrate true and honored friends. On that note, I want to ask everybody – I don’t know if everybody has a glass, but I ask you all to raise a glass if you can. If we could drink a toast to a remarkable journey, to a special friendship, and to the road ahead, we thank you, prime minister. All the best, sir.