Hawaii Governor David Ige says he and his wife will attend the upcoming White House State Dinner honoring Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to an Apr. 23 news release from the Governor’s office. The dinner will take place on Tuesday, Apr. 28.
“It is an honor for us to be invited to represent our state and reinforce Hawaii’s strong cultural and economic ties with our Japanese neighbors,” said Ige in the news release. According to the official White House press statement on the dinner, “President [Barack] Obama and Prime Minister Abe will discuss a range of economic, security, and global issues, including progress on the Trans Pacific Partnership, Japan’s expanding role in the Alliance, and climate change.”
The dinner comes at an anxious time in Japanese relations with the US and much of the rest of world. Considered a right-wing politician, Abe has lately come under rhetorical fire for both his government’s more aggressive stance towards Japanese re-armament (something US officials love) and his refusal to apologize for Japan’s conduct during World War II (something Asia really hates). In fact, governments around the world are waiting with breathless anticipation for a statement from Abe this August on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
This makes for a pretty striking backdrop for Abe’s historic visit to the US. Here’s The New York Times‘ take on it, which ran on Apr. 9:
Many in the United States also want Mr. Abe to come clean on history issues during a visit later this month to Washington, where he will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of Congress. Some veterans and Korean-Americans opposed inviting Mr. Abe to speak unless he promised to admit responsibility for Japan’s wartime misdeeds.
These demands were ultimately brushed aside by American lawmakers eager to support Japan, the United States’ largest Asian partner. Still, many in the United States and Asia will be paying close attention to what Mr. Abe says to Congress as a possible foretaste of his 70th anniversary statement.
American analysts and policy makers say they hope Mr. Abe makes a clear repudiation of Japan’s wartime conduct. Failing to do so, they fear, may undermine his efforts to take a leading role in Asian security by easing Japan’s self-imposed restraints on its military, something that is warmly welcomed by Washington at a time when it faces a rising China, military budget cuts and new crises in the Middle East.
Another point of interest: Ige is of Okinawan descent, and these days Okinawa is something of a flashpoint in US-Japanese relations. Much of the island has been an American military base since we seized it from the Japanese during one of the largest and bloodiest battles in the Pacific during the war, and residents there are pretty adamant that they’d like to see us go. In fact, reporter Tim Shorrock–who grew up in Japan–wrote in The Nation in March that a grassroots effort there against the continued US military presence may even lead to us withdrawing from Okinawa entirely.
Anyway, according to the US News & World Report (which I didn’t realize was still a thing) link that Ige’s communications office helpfully included in the news release, this will only be President Barack Obama’s eighth State Dinner since 2009. Only President Harry Truman has held fewer dinners (six) since 1945, according to USNWR.
During Ige’s absence (scheduled to take place Apr. 27-29), Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui will be acting-governor.
Photo of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: US State Department/Wikimedia Commons