Shinzo Abe, the former two-time Japanese Prime Minister, died at the age of 67, after he was assassinated on July 8 while campaigning for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Western Japanese city of Nara.
His assailant was a 41-year-old man wielding what appeared to be a home made pistol.
According to Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK, the man was arrested for attempted murder.
At around 5pm GMT+8 time on July 8, NHK confirmed that Abe had passed away.
Longest serving PM
Abe was Japan’s longest serving post-war Prime Minister, taking the post twice.
During his first term, he became the first PM born after the end of the war but only managed a year-long stint between 2006 and 2007.
He then swept back to power in 2012 with a landslide victory, returning his party, the LDP, back into power after being ousted in 2009.
Abe would hold the role until August 2020, when he would resign due to health concerns. He was the longest uninterrupted PM in modern Japanese history, as well as Japan’s longest serving PM in the post war period with both terms added together.
Abe’s return in 2012 came after a long period of political instability and economic stagnation. From the time of Junichiro Koizumi, who had served as PM for over five years, all subsequent PMs were unable to hold power for more than 18 months, most averaging a year.
Abe came from a line of prominent political figures. His father Shintaro Abe was a foreign minister, his great-uncle Eisaku Sato was a PM, as was his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi.
He is survived by his wife, Akie Abe. The couple have no children.
Abe was known for two of his major policies, Abenomics and a more assertive international policy.
As described in a profile by Reuters, Abenomics grew out of the bursting of Japan’s stock market and real estate bubble of the early 1990s. Prior to that point, Japan was seen as an economic juggernaut; but since then Japan has been mired in its “lost decade” where the GDP fell to a one percent average.
Abenomics was an ambitious attempt at economic “shock therapy”, and involved what Abe referred to as “three arrows” which Nippon.com describes as: quantitative easing, massive public works spending, and a sustainable growth economic strategy; an aggressive fiscal, monetary, and structural policy.
The reforms had a mixed result. Abe himself credits them for ending 20 years of deflation, and lifted business sentiment; as well as the critical achievement of reducing unemployment. But as the Nippon.com profile points out, Abenomics has not been able to deliver the long lasting structural reforms that Japan needs for the future.
Current PM Fumio Kishida has signaled the end of Abenomics by introducing what he terms “new capitalism”, an economic policy that is centred on tackling income inequality and climate change, according to Bloomberg. It seeks a fairer, more inclusive, more sustainable approach to growth.
Still active in domestic politics after his retirement, he was campaigning for upcoming upper house elections.
The LDP, from which Kishida and Abe both hail, are likely to secure most of the seats up for grabs according to Bloomberg. During this election only a portion of the upper house is up for election. Doing well in the election will likely allow Kishida to hold off holding new elections for several years.
Peace clause and shrine visits
Abe’s other, more contentious legacy, is that of his foreign policy and attempts at reforming the Japanese military.
Abe was a committed nationalist and would visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan’s war dead are interred, once as Prime Minister and again after he resigned despite knowing that it would enrage China and South Korea.
He was one of the more assertive Japanese prime ministers when it came to foreign policy, as reported by the Washington Post.
He has been vocal about the worrying role of China in Asia, both in and out of government, calling China ‘militaristic’. But he himself also sought to expand the role of the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF). He was successful in modifying Japanese law, allowing the JSDF to participate in overseas deployments bringing Japan a step closer to being what Abe termed “a normal country”.
But normality was the worry that most of its neighbours had with his policy, as shown in this article by The Diplomat. Many felt that Japan and Abe in particular did not sufficiently recognise the role Japan played in initiating the war, and Abe never quite being able to voice the contrition that others felt he should.
He also brought about a movement towards military modernisation, with the JSDF constructing new ships such as the JS Izumo, and the F35b, which come together to give Japan an aircraft carrier capability they have lacked since the second world war.
Abe had ambitious hopes of modifying large parts of the American written Japanese constitution. Perhaps the most prominent goal was to modify Article 9, the “Peace clause”, to allow an expansion of the JSDF’s capabilities, perhaps even going so far as to be able to call it an actual army. Article 9 prohibits war and the maintenance of war capacity.
This was ultimately thwarted by the Japanese public, in which a strong anti-war, pacifistic belief has been strongly instilled, including in the LDP’s junior coalition partner the Komeito.
Pragmatic coalition building in foreign policy
Abe’s foreign policy was also that of an arch pragmatist as described by the BBC. Working closely with Japan’s long standing ally the United States, including a close relationship with Donald Trump in recent years, while promoting further U.S. involvement in the region.
Abe laid the foundation for collective security in the Indo-Pacific region by conjuring into being the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, in 2007, during his first PM.
US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Anthony Albanese, and Indian PM Narendra Modi praised Abe’s leadership in a joint statement, saying that he played “a formative role in the founding of the Quad partnership, and worked tirelessly to advance a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Japan is part of the Quad, along with the U.S., India, and Australia; a move positioned as maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region, but characterised as a strategy of containment by China.
He was also very willing to form broad coalitions with a variety of partners. When Trump would withdraw from multiple regional trade deals, it would be Abe’s Japan that took up the mantle of regional trade.
Japan would rework and reform the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), with 11 other pacific rim countries, including Singapore.
Abe’s Japan would also be an important partner in ASEAN’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an East Asian trade grouping that encompassed ASEAN and China.
Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong would acknowledge this role that Abe played in his valedictory message to him when he retired.
Calling it a privilege to have worked with Abe for nearly a decade, he hailed their multiple bilateral visits, as well as the signing of the Japan-Singapore New Age Economic Partnership Agreement.
He also lauded the cooperation between ASEAN and Japan during Abe’s stewardship, as well as praising Abe for his “decisive leadership” in shepherding of the CPTPP agreement after U.S. withdrawal.
Passing of a titan in Japan
Abe was a commanding figure in modern Japanese politics, and will likely cast a long shadow over the successors. Japan has a political environment where both his predecessors and successors have struggled to complete their terms, let alone compete with Abe’s longevity.
World leaders have mourned his passing.
US President Joe Biden said that he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened by the news that my friend Abe Shinzo”, calling him “a champion of the Alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people” in a White House statement.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi described him as a “towering global statesman” and “outstanding leader”.