Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to address Congress amid skepticism about US role abroad

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday for an address to U.S. lawmakers meant to underscore the importance of keeping a strong partnership between the two countries at a time of tension in the Asia-Pacific and skepticism in Congress about U.S. involvement abroad.

Kishida was in Washington this week visiting President Joe Biden as the White House completed hosting each leader of the Quad — an informal partnership between the U.S. Japan, Australia and India that is seen as important to countering China’s growing military strength in the region. Kishida is expected to talk about the future of the relationship between Japan and the U.S.

He will be addressing many Republicans who have pushed for the U.S. to take a less active role in global affairs as they follow the “America First” ethos of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The Republican-controlled House has sat for months on a $95 billion package that would send wartime funding to Ukraine and Israel, as well as aid to allies in the Indo-Pacific like Taiwan and humanitarian help to civilians in Gaza and Ukraine.

While the package does not include any direct funding for Japan, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that he hoped Kishida’s visit would underscore “that we’re in a worldwide situation here against the enemies of democracy — led by China, Russia and Iran.”

Japan has taken a strong role in supporting Ukraine’s defense against Moscow as well as helping humanitarian aid get to Gaza. It is also seen as a key U.S. partner in a fraught region where China is asserting its strength and North Korea is developing a nuclear program.

“Japan is a close ally — critical to both our national and economic security,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement. “This visit will continue to deepen the diplomatic and security relationship between our two countries and build on the strength of decades of cooperation.”

Kishida was also attending a U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit on Thursday in another effort to bolster regional cooperation in the face of China’s aggression.

In Congress, House Speaker Mike Johnson has held up the foreign security package since its Senate passage in February but is now working to advance it in the coming weeks. It will be a difficult task to navigate the deep divides on support for Kyiv among Republicans. Making matters worse for the Republican speaker, he is already facing the threat of being ousted from the speaker’s office.

Kishida, who was elected in 2021, arrives in Washington while facing political problems of his own in Japan. Polls show his support has plunged as he deals with a political funds corruption scandal within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The nation’s economy has also slipped to the world’s fourth-largest last year, falling behind Germany.

It will be the first time a Japanese prime minister addresses Congress since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Capitol Hill in 2015. Kishida will also be the sixth foreign leader to address Congress during Biden’s presidency.

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