Kamala Harris in Japan amid protests against state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Japan on Monday for a visit to Asia that will see her meet with officials in Tokyo and then South Korea later this week. The first stop was a multi-day visit to Tokyo for the memorial service for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Harris leads the US delegation at Tuesday’s state funeral for Abe, who, after serving as prime minister for nine years between 2006 and 2020, was shot and killed while delivering a campaign speech in July. In addition to paying tribute on behalf of President Biden and the entire American people, Harris’ visit aims to “reaffirm America’s commitment to our allies in an increasingly complex security environment” and to “deepen our global engagement in the Indo-Pacific region”. “, said a senior administration official during a Friday briefing.

Shortly after landing, Harris met with current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Before going behind closed doors, the two spoke briefly to reporters, with Harris saying she was sad to be in the country under such difficult circumstances, referring to Abe’s death, but that she was happy to be here to honor the life and legacy of the slain leader.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands before the Japan-United States bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guesthouse in Tokyo, Japan on September 26, 2022, before the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


Harris called the Japan-US alliance a “cornerstone” for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and she vowed the US would continue to stand with Japan.

The vice president is expected to face controversy during the trip, as Abe’s funeral backed by the Japanese government sparks public backlash and protests. Last week, an elderly man allegedly set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, in an apparent move against plans for the memorial, according to officials and media. More protests are expected to take place in the coming days.

US allies seek clarification after mixed messages over whether Mr Biden would be send troops to defend Taiwan of a Chinese invasion, a potential conflict that could quickly engulf the rest of the region. There is potential for more provocations from North Korea, which tested a missile shortly before Harris left Washington on Sunday.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan are moving toward a reconciliation that would heal some of the wounds left by World War II, with the United States cautiously trying to push the process forward. And there’s resentment over a new US law that makes electric vehicles built outside of North America ineligible for subsidies.

But in Japan, even Abe’s state funeral on Tuesday is a sensitive topic, as such memorials are rare and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed. Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after World War II, was murdered with a homemade gun almost three months ago.

The controversy has politically weakened the current Japanese Prime Minister, Kishida, at a time when his government is plan to pursue Abe’s goal to strengthen the country’s army.

If Japan goes ahead with its proposed military spending, it will have the world’s third-largest defense budget in years to come as tensions rise between China and the United States over Taiwan. The island is a self-governing democracy, but Beijing considers it part of its territory and has pledged to reunite it with the mainland.

Police investigate the site where a man protesting the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set himself on fire
Police and firefighters investigate the site where a man, who was protesting the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set himself on fire in Tokyo, Japan, September 21, 2022.

KYODO via Reuters

Harris, who will lead a delegation of current and former US officials to the funeral, plans to spend three nights in Tokyo. She was also due to meet South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Harris was also scheduled to meet with Japanese business leaders, as the United States sought to expand computer chip manufacturing, and to visit American sailors serving on a US destroyer at a nearby naval base.

It’s the Vice President’s second trip to asia since taking office in January 2021.

During a layover in South Korea, she plans to see President Yoon Suk Yeol and host a panel discussion with leading women – a touchy subject in a country where Yoon has faced criticism for his administration. predominantly male.

Relations between South Korea and Japan remain strained due to the legacy of Japanese aggression during World War II. Koreans are asking for compensation for the forced labor and sex slavery that took place when Japan occupied their country.

Kishida and Yoon announced at the United Nations on Thursday that they would accelerate their work to repair relations between their two countries.

Mr. Biden has met with each leader separately, and the United States is eager to see the two allies work out their issues as they seek a united front against China.

Taiwan remains a hot spot and tensions have increased in recent months.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in August, provoking the indignation of Beijing, which retaliated by organizing military exercises. Although Chinese leaders have said they seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan, the exercises are a reminder of the possibility that Beijing could use force.

China also fired missiles into waters near some of Japan’s southern islands, a reminder that any dispute over Taiwan would pose a threat to other countries as well.

The United States has 55,000 troops based in Japan, more than half of them on the southern island of Okinawa. Earlier this month, Okinawa re-elected a governor who calls for a reduction in the US presence there.

Mr. Biden said in a recent “60 Minutes” interview that the United States would send its own troops to defend Taiwan if China invaded. But there is no formal defense treaty with Taiwan and administration officials have repeatedly said Mr Biden’s comments did not reflect a change in policy, muddying the waters on what exactly the United States.

President Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2022.

CBS News

“It’s ambiguous,” said Ja-Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. “But if it’s strategically ambiguous, I don’t know.”

More controversy awaits Harris in South Korea, where new US rules that make electric cars built outside North America ineligible for US government subsidies are sparking outrage. The policy was included in the Cut Inflation Act, a landmark law that includes nearly $375 billion for climate change initiatives.

Yoon, South Korea’s recently elected president, had spent his first months in office emphasizing his country’s close ties to the United States, but now officials are expressing a sense of betrayal. They want the rules delayed until 2025, when Korean automaker Hyundai plans to complete a new plant in Georgia.

Yoon’s government is also considering filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the law, which it sees as a potential violation of trade rules and an agreement between the two countries.

South Korean officials are also seeking cooperation with European countries such as Germany and Sweden, which they say share similar concerns over their electric vehicles being exported to the United States, to put more pressure on Washington. concerning “discriminatory” withdrawals of subsidies.

The dispute is a nasty sequel to Mr. Biden’s trip to seoul earlier this year when he celebrated automaker Hyundai’s plans to invest $10 billion in the United States. About half of that money goes to the Georgia plant.

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