US Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the presidential delegation to Japan for the state funeral of assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scheduled on September 27, where world leaders and royal families are expected to be present.
US President Joe Biden has asked Harris to lead the delegation, a White House official said.
“Harris’ visit will honour the legacy of Prime Minister Abe and underscore the importance of his leadership in championing the alliance between the United States and Japan and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House official said.
Additional members of the delegation will be announced at a later date. Local outlets in Asia had reported last month that US officials have begun laying the groundwork for the Vice President’s visit, the CNN said quoting the White House official.
Harris will be in Asia from September 25 to 29, first traveling to Tokyo, then making a second stop in Seoul. In both places, Harris will meet with “senior government officials and civil society representatives in a series of engagements that will highlight the strength of the United States’ alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea”, the official said.
A source familiar with the planning told CNN that Harris is expected to meet with both Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol.
It will be Harris’ second visit to Asia since taking office. In August 2021, Harris had visited Southeast Asia in the midst of the administration’s first major foreign policy crisis after the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Harris held a series of events meant to shore up relationships with regional partners and focused on regional security issues amid concerns over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea; economic priorities, including supply chain issues like global chip production; climate change; and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Officials see this trip as building upon the important work done during her first trip and another foray onto the world stage, the source told CNN.
Abe, 67, died in July after being shot while giving a campaign speech on a street in Nara, Japan. Biden, at the time, had mourned his death by saying that he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened” by the news of the death of his “friend”.
“Above all, [Abe] cared deeply about the Japanese people and dedicated his life to their service. Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy,” Biden had said in a statement released by the White House.
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has strongly defended the state funeral for Abe scheduled on September 27 at the Budokan arena.
Defending the decision to hold the ceremony, Kishida said: “We’ve received many requests to attend the funeral from people, including members of royal families, presidents and heads of states. I increasingly feel we need to respond to such admiration and condolences with courtesy.”
He also vowed to “squarely answer questions” from opposition parties about the state funeral in the Parliament, reports from Tokyo said.
In a recent poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, 30 per cent of respondents said they supported the event while 53 per cent were opposed to it.
Public opinion in Japan remains divided over whether Abe should be granted such an honor. Many see it as a waste of taxpayers’ money. The cabinet confirmed that at least 250 million yen has been allocated for the ceremony at the Budokan arena.
That figure, though, doesn’t include security expenditure, with opposition parties suggesting the final bill could run into billions.