Biden hails "unbreakable" Japan ties during PM's lavish state visit

Washington DC - President Joe Biden hailed "unbreakable" US-Japanese ties Wednesday as he hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a White House state visit featuring a major upgrade in defense ties against a resurgent China.

President Joe Biden (r.) hailed "unbreakable" US-Japanese ties Wednesday as he hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a White House state visit.
President Joe Biden (r.) hailed "unbreakable" US-Japanese ties Wednesday as he hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a White House state visit.  © Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

Biden is rolling out the red carpet for Kishida with a luxurious dinner, plus music by legendary singer Paul Simon, as he sought to underscore the importance of Japan as a crucial ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

Welcoming the Japanese leader in a pomp-filled ceremony in the spring sunshine on the South Lawn of the White House, Biden said, "The partnership between us is unbreakable."

"The alliance between Japan and the United States is a cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. Ours is truly a global partnership," he added.

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Speaking in front of lines of US service members in ceremonial dress, Biden also hailed Japan's growing global role, including support for Ukraine against Russia's "vicious" invasion.

Kishida replied by referencing the thousands of cherry blossom trees that Japan gave to the United States more than a century ago and now bloom every springtime in Washington.

"I am confident that the cherry blossom-like bond of the Japan-US alliance will continue to grow even bigger and stronger," the Japanese premier said.

Biden and Kishida set to unveil plans for US military command restructure in Japan

President Joe Biden (r.) speaks during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden (r.) speaks during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday.  © SAUL LOEB / AFP

Behind all the ceremony is serious business, with the two leaders set to unveil plans to restructure the US military command in Japan – the biggest boost to defense cooperation since the 1960s, with a wary eye on China.

Biden and Kishida met in the Oval Office after the formal welcome to discuss what officials said were up to 70 agreements on cooperation in defense, space, and technology.

The president then gave a rare press conference with Kishida in the White House Rose Garden.

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The visit reinforced the importance that Biden places on building alliances against China but also Beijing's allies Russia, North Korea, and Iran in an increasingly uncertain world rocked by wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

On Thursday, Biden will also host the first trilateral summit between Japan, the Philippines, and the United States, aiming to deepen their alliances in the face of escalating maritime tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea.

Senior US officials said they wanted to "flip the script" on Beijing by isolating it when it tried to flex its muscles in the region.

A key part of the talks would also be to reassure Japan of long-term support even if Donald Trump wins November's US elections, amid "anxiety in capitals" around the world at the prospect, they added.

Hanging over the talks will also be the thorny topic of a Japanese takeover of US Steel, a deal opposed by Biden, but officials said they did not expect the leaders to discuss it.

White House throws extravagant state dinner for first Japanese leadership visit in almost a decade

Yuko Kishida (l.),wife of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, listens to First Lady Jill Biden (r.) speak during a Spousal Program with local high school students at the main library of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on Wednesday.
Yuko Kishida (l.),wife of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, listens to First Lady Jill Biden (r.) speak during a Spousal Program with local high school students at the main library of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on Wednesday.  © DREW ANGERER / AFP

The rest of Wednesday will be dedicated to the extravagant hosting of 66-year-old Kishida and his wife, Yuko.

The state dinner will be held in the grand East Room of the White House, decorated by fans and cherry blossom branches.

White House chefs will serve a meal featuring Japanese flavors, starting with house-cured salmon, followed by dry-aged rib eye with wasabi sauce, and salted caramel pistachio cake with cherry ice cream.

After dinner, Paul Simon "will perform a selection of his iconic songs," White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo told reporters.

First Lady Jill Biden said during a preview of the dinner that it would celebrate the "flourishing" US-Japan friendship.

"Our nations are partners in a world where we choose creation over destruction, peace over bloodshed, and democracy over autocracy," she said.

Kishida is the first Japanese leader to get a US state visit since Shinzo Abe in 2015 and only the fifth world leader to receive one since Biden took office in 2021.

Staunchly pacifist for decades, Japan has in recent years made "some of the most significant, momentous changes" since World War II, US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said ahead of the visit.

Cover photo: Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

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