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Biden’s Message to the People of Japan

Vice President Joe Biden greets Japanese students after giving a speech on recovery and reconstruction efforts in the international terminal at Sendai Airport on Aug. 23. The students were scheduled to study abroad in Dover, Del. (Biden's home state) before the tsunami hit in March. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

The White House has posted a speech given by Vice President Joe Biden on Aug. 23 at Sendai Airport. He was in Japan to visit areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, and to discuss relief efforts. Following is an edited version of his speech.

I am honored and truly humbled to have an opportunity to visit this place that has seen so much devastation and tragedy but also demonstrated for the world to see so much heroism and courage, resolve and selflessness.

If there was ever a single set of circumstances for the world to understand what the Japanese people are made of — their resolve, their determination, their brotherhood, it was this God-awful tragedy that you have had to go through. I came to express not only my commitment to say we will do whatever we can to help, but to tell you how much the President, how much I, how much the American people admire your character …

On March 11, when the earth shook and the ocean surged, the thoughts and prayers of the entire world turned toward Japan, a great and peaceful nation that has always been there when others have needed you. It’s something I think sometimes the Japanese people forget as they express their gratitude to us and others, you have always been there. You have been there when others have been the victims of the forces of nature.

So I wanted to extend my deepest condolences, and those of President Obama and all the American people, for what you have endured, and particularly for the family, friends and loved ones of those of who have been lost.

But I am also here to honor the incredible spirit of the Japanese people, who remind the world of something equally as forceful as the force of nature, that is the force of the nature of the human spirit, which is equally as formidable, particularly when we join together in the most trying of times.

I’ll have a chance later this afternoon to visit the community center that is now the home for hundreds of families left homeless by the devastation; I’m anxious to meet them. I’m anxious to hear their stories. And I’m anxious to let them know America is … here as long as you want us to help.

But I already know that the disaster met its match in the legendary industriousness and relentless perseverance of the Japanese people.

Neighbors and total strangers in this region divided up the tasks essential to survival: scavenging for food wherever they could find it; overcoming downed cellular networks by communicating through message boards, radio and human messengers; gathering fuel from the tanks of the wrecked motor boats and automobiles.

We see that same spirit throughout Japan, including the brilliant young Japanese golfer who recently captured the imagination of Americans. Ryo (Ishikawa) stood there … (and said) that he had committed all his earnings to deal with the devastation back home.

One eighth-grade English teacher, I’m told, as school resumed, told her students … “Many of us lost our homes and possessions in an instant. The important thing is now making a first step toward something brighter.”

My dear mother … in the most difficult moments, including when I lost my wife and daughter, she said, “Joey, out of everything terrible, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.” It’s hard to look for it. It’s hard to accept that. But it’s true. And the DNA of the Japanese people is riddled with the notion that it’s true.

Five months after the disaster, while there is still clearly a long way to go, you have made remarkable progress, schools are beginning to reopen, businesses are coming back, homes are being rebuilt.

One of the first major steps toward moving forward here in Sendai is specifically here at this airport. On March 11, flood waters reached, I’m told, the second level, almost all the way to this floor. And when the water receded, it became the home of more than 1,000 weary survivors with nowhere to go.

As I stand here at this airport, I am proud … that our military was given the privilege of being able to join your forces. And within a week of the earthquake, able to reopen the runway that enabled the arrival of hundreds of relief workers and more than 2 million tons of humanitarian supplies.

And just a month after the earthquake, on April 13, the airport reopened to commercial flights. Indeed, one of the underpublicized but remarkable aspects of the response to this disaster is that the Japan has remained open for business …

The American people are also proud and honored by the way they have been able to assist … And that’s because of a simple proposition. It’s not because of government-to-government or military-to-military relations. It’s because of a genuine affection the American people have for the Japanese people. You students, when you come to my home state, you will see that … But it’s also because … we know if the reverse situation occurred … you’d be there to help us. You’d be there to do everything you could. As you were at Katrina, as you were in Pakistan, as you were around the world, wherever disaster has struck.

That’s why within hours, our military launched what we refer to in English as “Operation Friend” — the single largest humanitarian relief effort in American history. And it was done without having to convince the American people of anything. It was spontaneous. It’s because of the affection for … the people of Japan.  That’s the building block upon which this partnership and alliance of ours is built.

But this is not just a one-time effort in response to a crisis. America’s ongoing assistance to Japan’s economic recovery is just as important. It’s not only important for Japan, it’s important for the United States … that Japan remain open for business and continue to grow, to prosper. And there is no limit, in our view, what two of the world’s largest economies, and strongest and most dynamic economies in the history of the world, can accomplish together. I emphasize together.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in April to help launch the broad public-private partnership aimed at revitalizing the economy by helping build better links between this region and the global economy.

This is taking shape as a public-private friendship initiative, in essence the sequel to Operation Friendship, to support Japan’s recovery, in part through fellowship and grant programs that support education and innovative business projects, and in many other ways.  But it’s an investment … in tomorrow’s leaders.

We’re working to enhance the cooperation between Japan and America, between Japanese and American businesses, between our nations’ civil society groups, and among public officials — including more than 180 American municipalities with Japanese sister cities.

Look at the 16 young baseball players from right here in Sendai, who have spent the past two weeks in the United States, hosted by Hall of Fame friend of mine named Cal Ripken, as part of a State Department sports exchange program with Japan.

America’s commitment to our friend and ally Japan extends well beyond support in times of need and reflects the profound importance America places on our relationship with Japan and our deep ties to this region.

The United States is and will remain a Pacific power. America’s focus on this critical region will only grow in the years to come, as Asia plays an ever-increasing role in the global economy and international affairs. But the anchor for that relationship will be Japan.

As President Obama said in Tokyo, during his first visit to Asia as president … “The United States of America may have started as a series of port cities along the Atlantic Ocean, but for generations we have also been a nation of the Pacific. Asia and the United States are not separated by this great ocean; they are bound by this great ocean.”

That’s why when President Obama and I came to office two and a half years ago, we were determined to strengthen our partnership and alliance with Japan, which has served as a foundation of this region’s security and prosperity for over half a century.

Those nations in the region that are prospering and growing … that has been made possible by the stability and certitude that Japan and the United States have been able to provide over the last 50 years.

Rooted in common interests and shared values — including democratic ideals, respect for human rights, the rule of law — this alliance always plays an indispensable role in ensuring the security and prosperity of not only Japan and the United States, but, quite frankly, the entire Asia-Pacific region.

We are committed to ensuring that it continues to be effective in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Toward that end, I was pleased that in June our secretaries of defense and state met for the first what we call “2 plus 2” talks in more than four years, part of our effort to increase security cooperation with Japan in the coming years.

Our partnership continues to thrive.  Even as you recover from the earthquake and the tsunami, Japan continues to play a prominent and positive role in world affairs.

I just want you to know that we remember and we are aware that … wherever on the planet disaster strikes, Japan has always been among the first to lend a hand and deploy aid workers, generous contributions, essential donations to the recovery of that country or region.

When the Indian Ocean tsunami left hundreds of thousands dead or homeless throughout the region, when the earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, when flood waters ravaged Pakistan, when Hurricane Katrina cut a devastating swath through America’s Gulf Coast, in every one of those instances, without being asked … the people of Japan have lent a hand.

But as Japan faces its own difficult time, Americans will stand by Japan for as long as it takes. My visit today is to reinforce and reassert that commitment of an ally to an ally, a friend to a friend …

There are some around the world who are betting on the decline of America and the inability of Japan to rise again. They are making a very bad bet. Both of us … will continue to grow and prosper. And together … we are a significant part of the engine that will allow the world to recover.

I thank you for your friendship. I thank you for giving us the honor of being able to be of whatever assistance we have been so far. And may God bless the people of Japan and the people of the United States upon whom this relationship is really built.

Vice President Joe Biden talks to survivors of the tsunami at a temporary housing center in Natori on Aug. 23. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

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