Sat, Mar 21, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Abe to address joint session of US Congress

POWERFUL PLATFORM:The historic occasion is set to take place next month, although the Japanese prime minister faces some opposition due to his stance on ‘comfort women’

AFP, WASHINGTON

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to become the first Japanese prime minister in history to address a joint session of the US Congress, crowning a visit next month focused on deepening trade and military ties.

Abe hopes to make the speech during a trip to the US at the end of next month, around the time of Japan’s Golden Week holiday, diplomatic and legislative sources said.

The invitation has been sent, according to a congressional aide, and official announcement is expected soon.

Few Japanese politicians have ever addressed Congress and none have done so in a coveted joint meeting or session of the Senate and House of Representatives.

OPPOSITION

There has been some opposition to the invitation because of Abe’s stance on World War II “comfort women.”

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, but also from China, Indonesia and other Asian nations, were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

Abe is accused of embracing a “revisionist” account of events.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye in particular has called for him to do more to address the issue.

Japan says it has already apologized and offered financial compensation and psychological help to victims.

The speech is expected to echo some of the themes from Abe’s speech to the Australian parliament in July last year.

Speaking in English, he expressed humility about the “evils and horrors” of Japan’s history.

TRADE DEAL PUSH

Abe’s visit is also likely to push forward talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade deal bringing together a dozen nations including Australia, the US, Japan, Mexico and Vietnam.

Negotiators hope that by the time Abe arrives, US President Barack Obama will have won backing from Congress to close negotiations on the deal.

Obama is seeking so-called fast-tracked authority that would allow the White House to agree the deal and submit it in its entirety to Congress to ratify, without the power to make amendments.

The US government estimates that the country ships almost US$2 billion worth of goods to the Trans-Pacific countries every day.

However, Obama faces some opposition in Congress, chiefly from within his own Democratic party, and from trade unions that worry about labor standards in the signatory countries and that jobs may be shipped overseas.

Abe’s visit is also expected to develop closer military ties between the two countries.

MILITARY TIES

Efforts are already underway to update “defense cooperation guidelines” that govern military relations.

The revisions might allow Japan to come to the aid of US ships that are attacked in the Western Pacific or the South China Sea.

It has also seen a considerable military buildup in recent years.

The change in the guidelines comes after Japan revised the way it interprets Article 9 of its constitution — which outlaws Japan going to war.

The new interpretation would allow for self-defense.

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