Shinzo Abe arms open Shinzo Abe/Ma Ping/ZumaPress

Mr. Abe Goes to Washington

Later this month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address a joint session of the US Congress. The Japan-US alliance is now 63 years old, so why is this the first time that a democratically elected Japanese leader has received this honor from the American government and people?

TOKYO – On April 29, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address a joint session of the United States Congress. The Japan-US alliance is now 63 years old, but this will be the first time that a Japanese leader will be accorded this high honor from the American government and people.

Abe’s visit to the US comes at a time when friction between the two countries is at an all-time low. The trade and economic disputes that incited tensions – and a sub-genre of paranoid movies about Japan – in the 1980s, when nine members of Congress even smashed a Toshiba radio with sledgehammers, rarely make an appearance nowadays.

Those past disputes probably explain why former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, though a political soul mate of then-President Ronald Reagan, was never invited to address a joint session of Congress. Today, however, the bilateral relationship is very different. Japan’s economic interests are more closely aligned with America’s – the country is poised to join the US-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will create a vast free-trade zone among a dozen Pacific Rim countries – and the two sides’ strategic visions for Asia are in near-harmony.

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