Shinzo Abe will become the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial in an event intended to emphasize the shared interests of Japan and the United States.

The White House said Monday that the prime minister will meet President Barack Obama on Oahu on Dec. 27 to review “joint efforts” at strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Obama will also accompany Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those killed Dec. 7, 1941.

Shinzo Abe and Barack Obama at the White House in 2013. The Japanese prime minister will visit Pearl Harbor Dec. 27.
Shinzo Abe and Barack Obama at the White House in 2013. They will meet again in Hawaii on Dec. 27. White House

Obama spokesperson Josh Earnest said the two leaders will “showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values.”

Abe’s visit reciprocates Obama’s trip in May to Hiroshima, the Japanese city that was the target of the first atomic bomb attack. The Aug. 6, 1945, explosion killed more than 120,000 people.

No sitting U.S. president had previously visited Hiroshima.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said Monday the Abe visit will be “historic and symbolic.”

She described the prime minister’s plans as “a continuation” of reconciliation efforts and Obama’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, a move intended to shift the nation’s focus away from Europe and the Middle East.

In addition to the Obama visit to Hiroshima, the congresswoman noted that Akie Abe, the first lady of Japan, visited Hawaii in August to speak at the Japan-U.S. International Symposium on Ocean Conservation. The symposium also featured Irene Hirano Inouye, president of U.S.-Japan Council and the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye.

Shared History

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard noted that Hawaii has long had a “special and unique relationship” with Japan.

“There is no other place in the United States where Japanese ancestry and culture run so deep, uniquely intertwined with our history and our people,” she said. “However, it holds true that this strong relationship emerged from a painful past. It was only through our mutual commitment to peace that our two nations forged an alliance and a friendship that now serves as a guiding light for countries that find themselves struggling with conflict today.”

Earlier this year Gabbard, also a Democrat, wrote to Abe inviting him to attend the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

And last month she reintroduced a House resolution — originally authored by the late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai — that commemorates the anniversary and honors “the more than 320,000 men and women who gave their lives in defense of the United States during World War II.”

Visitors arrive via boat to the USS Arizona Memorial with a clear view of the Waianae Mountain range as a backdrop. 5 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The leaders plan to visit the USS Arizona Memorial on Dec. 27. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii Gov. David Ige also reacted positively to the Abe news:

What happened at Pearl Harbor changed the world forever, and in the 75 years since then, our nations transformed from combatants to partners who helped usher in the Pacific Era. I am pleased that the leaders of these great nations will meet in Hawaii where our shared values and close ties form the basis for both countries to prosper in the next century.

Ige has met with Abe in Japan to discuss mutual business interests and attended a state dinner at the White House in Abe’s honor.

In spite of Hawaii’s close ties to Japan, policy priorities are certain to shift under the coming Trump administration. Obama also recently gave up on a broad-ranging trade policy in the region called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But Hanabusa said Obama is attempting to assure both Americans and Japanese that Japan continues to be America’s primary ally in the region and that the nations should not forget their shared history.

Part of that history was the interment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans, including Hanabusa’s grandparents, during World War II. The interment concept has been resurrected in the context of Muslim-Americans, something strongly denounced by Hawaii leaders.

“It’s a statement of what we have been through together, that this is our past, and no one should forget because, if we do forget history could repeat again,” she said of the Abe visit.

Meantime, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said, “Throughout his time in office, President Obama demonstrated a deep commitment to strengthening our alliances across the Asia-Pacific. This historic visit, the first by a sitting Japanese prime minister to Pearl Harbor, signifies how far our countries have come in the last 75 years, and what we can achieve when committed to a strong, stable, and prosperous region.”

On Tuesday, Hirono plans to introduce a bipartisan resolution to have the Senate commemorate the anniversary. Co-sponsors so far include Hawaii’s other Democrat in that chamber, Brian Schatz.

75 Years On

The announcement of the trip comes just two days before the nation is set to mark the 75th anniversary of the surprise attack that killed 2,403 people and wounded more than 1,000.

It also comes as the U.S. government is in transition to President-elect Donald Trump. Abe was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after the Nov. 8 election.

Obama, an Oahu-born Democrat, is not expected to attend this week’s commemorations, which include a variety of events and VIP guests.

Abe, a conservative, has sought to strengthen Japan’s military posture and recast the role his country played during World War II.

“We must never repeat the horror of war,” Abe said Monday, according to The New York Times. “I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation.”

The Pearl Harbor attack not only resulted in America’s entry into World War II, it also transformed Hawaii. The U.S. territory was under martial law during the war years, and the military significantly expanded its presence.

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