By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2011 – Humanitarian aid has flowed both ways between the United States and Japan, and American aid to Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is just the latest example of two close allies working together, Vice President Joe Biden said in Japan today.
Biden visited the Sendai Airport, which was re-opened by U.S forces in the days and weeks following the tsunami. The airport was flooded to the second level, and the runways and taxiways were clogged with debris, vehicles and bodies. The earthquake and resulting tsunami killed more than 20,000 people in Japan, and destroyed more than 125,000 buildings.
Still, the terminal building was one of the few buildings left inhabitable, and more than 1,000 refugees lived above the waterline.
The Japanese people already have come a long way since the disaster, Biden said, and American service members rushed to help. “As I stand here at this airport, I am proud … that our military was given the privilege of being able to join your forces,” he said, “and within a week of the earthquake, able to re-open the runway that enabled the arrival of hundreds of relief workers and more than 2 million tons of humanitarian supplies.”
A few weeks later, American service members were able to help in opening the airport to commercial flights.
“The American people are also proud and honored by the way they have been able to assist,” Biden said. “They’re proud to continue doing whatever you would like us to as you rebuild. 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.”
Within hours of the disaster, the United States launched Operation Tomodachi, which Biden said was the single largest humanitarian relief effort in American history. “It was done without having to convince the American people of anything,” he said. “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.”
A total of 20 U.S. Navy ships, 140 U.S. aircraft and almost 20,000 American service members participated in Operation Tomodachi.
The United States is a Pacific power, Biden said, and Japan is one of the closest allies in the region.
“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,” Biden said. “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.”
When disaster strikes in the world, Japan always is one of the first countries to offer aid and assistance, Biden noted.
“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, … the people of Japan have lent a hand,” he said.
As Japan faces its own difficult time, Americans will stand by Japan for as long as it takes, the vice president said.
“My visit today is to reinforce and reassert that commitment of an ally to an ally, a friend to a friend,” he added.
Many in the world are betting on the decline of America and the inability of Japan to rise again, Biden pointed out.
“They are making a very bad bet,” he said. “Both [nations] will continue to grow and prosper. Together, we are a significant part of the engine that will allow the world to recover.”