Japanese and Taiwanese lawmakers sample American Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

Representatives from many Asian countries gather in Washington for unprecedented interfaith dialogue between representatives from the US and their countries

The United States now has an actual army, but for some American lawmakers it was a cost-effective meal on Thanksgiving Day that most mattered.

Representatives from many Asian countries gathered in Washington on Thursday for an unprecedented interfaith dialogue between the US and their countries.

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Representatives from the US are strictly separate from the Asians, with a self-imposed 10-year limit in the US House and Senate, but this was no ordinary senior American officials.

Members of congress from many Asian countries travelled to the US capital for the first time, while some 12 governors – including Japanese, Japanese-American, Russian and Indian – and the United Nations secretary general’s representative also attended the lunch.

Before speaking to the group, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Senator Brian Schatz said their countries were different from the US in that each one has its own culture, languages and systems.

“And this holiday season, we as people of different countries have a responsibility as you share common democratic values, to learn from each other and understand each other,” said Schatz, who was one of the only four Democrats to vote against Donald Trump’s election.

After representatives welcomed the gathering in US alphabetical order, the Japanese delegation sat next to the Americans for the meal at the group’s first Washington gathering.

Through the traditional presentation of cookies and red and blue napkins, the Japanese delegation thanked the Americans for their solidarity. On the American side, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, gave cakes for the delegation.

“We must have the Congress at this moment. The time has come to have the Congress in partnership with our partners,” Engel said.

The plenary was followed by the Representative’s breakfast. The Taipei delegation was joined by the Taiwanese government, which does not have a strong relationship with Washington but has sought to strengthen relations to boost its economic and diplomatic ties.

That’s an important matter because the US has refused to sell Taiwan military weapons under pressure from China. With the US sending a top official and holding an official event, the Taiwanese are asking for direct contact with the president and the vice-president.

But what was striking was the solidarity between the four Asian countries, with respect to other countries, culture and religion. They sat at the same table with the Americans, some in their native language, and talked politics and foreign policy.

Representative Yen Chee Chin of Singapore said he came to DC not only for Thanksgiving but to celebrate the Thanksgiving of others, such as Japanese-Americans. Rep Chiu Li Shi of Taiwan, the delegate of the Chinese-speaking countries, said he came to the US to make the connection between different people from the Asian continent.

Others – including the representative of Japan’s delegation – said they came to Washington, primarily, to show their constituents that they were American citizens.

“The America of today is much more than today’s immigrants. But what that is is that Americans are first and foremost a family that seeks to create a more just, safe and inclusive society for its people,” Smith said.

The US is proud of its military, the lawmaker said, and the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act, a $716bn defence bill that included military support to the Japanese and other countries at the US Congress.

The lawmakers are representing their countries and are no doubt interested in what they can find out about how things in their countries operate. For some, the focus was mainly on catching up with their long-lost relatives and old friends.

And for others, it was about finding out the facts of the most recent and most important event – the US-China conflict in the South China Sea.

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