Visiting Japan’s quake-hit northeast yesterday, US Vice President Joe Biden said Japan would recover from the disaster just as the US would overcome its debt crisis, warning doubters not to count the two countries out.
Biden, who started his trip to Asia last week with talks in Beijing, met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo to discuss rebuilding efforts after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 20,000 people and triggered the world’s biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
In opening remarks, Biden said he had come to Japan to express US admiration for Japan’s handling of the earthquake and he made a robust case that neither Japan nor the US was in decline.
“While you’re struggling to deal with one of the greatest natural disasters any country has faced and we are dealing with getting our budget in order, there are voices in the world who are counting us out,” Biden said. “They’re making a very bad bet.”
Kan thanked Biden for the “enormous assistance” the US had provided to Japan and said his visit was a positive signal.
“We are back in business,” Kan said, according to a translator. “This visit ... demonstrates to the world that Japan is open for business.”
Biden overflew the tsunami wreckage before landing in northeastern Sendai, one of the hardest-hit cities.
“I am honored and truly humbled to have an opportunity to visit this place, to see so much devastation and tragedy,” Biden said, speaking at the airport of Sendai, one of the cities hardest-hit by the disaster.
He said that Japan’s response to what he called “this God-awful tragedy” had “demonstrated for the world to see so much heroism, courage and resolve and selflessness.”
Walking through the devastated landscape later, Biden saw a house that was reduced to a shell amid knocked-down pine trees and debris. He laid white flowers on a pile of rocks before observing a moment’s silence.
The US, which has maintained bases across Japan since World War II, mobilized more than 20,000 troops and about 160 aircraft in disaster relief and recovery operations after Japan’s worst peace-time catastrophe.
The US tsunami aid effort has helped rebuild relations which were long strained by a dispute over a US airbase on Japan’s Okinawa island.
One of the core achievements of the US “Operation Tomodachi” (Friend) was to clear Sendai’s international airport, where the tsunami had swept aircraft, cars, mud and debris across runways and into terminals.
Defense planners in both countries see Okinawa’s US bases as significant at a time when China is building up its naval forces and showing an increasing assertiveness in territorial disputes in nearby waters.
Biden spoke about his visit to China and pointed at the half-century security alliance between Tokyo and Washington.
“We are a Pacific power. You are a Pacific power. We are allies, both economically and politically,” Biden told Kan. “It’s something that we value a great deal.”
Biden is to visit the US military headquarters in Japan at the Yokota airbase west of Tokyo today.