Who was Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese Prime Minister who was shot

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of the country’s most powerful post-war leaders, was killed in a gun attack on Friday while attending a campaign event in Nara , near Osaka, according to public broadcaster NHK. He was 67 years old.

A long-time figure in the Japanese political landscape, Abe served as prime minister for a short period – from 2006 to 2007 – before serving again as the country’s highest political office from 2012 to 2020. His center-right Liberal Democratic Party has dominated Japanese politics since its inception in 1955.

By the time he stepped down due to illness in August 2020, Abe had become modern Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. His tenure surpassed that of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who ruled Japan from 1957 to 1960; his father, Shintaro Abe, also served as chief cabinet secretary, often considered the second most powerful post in the country.

Abe sought to transform a nation protected by the US nuclear umbrella and bound by a pacifist constitution into a more assertive and internationally engaged power. He also tried to revitalize Japan’s stagnant economy, which lost its position as Asia’s largest between his two terms.

Abe’s legacy looms for Japan’s next prime minister

A scandal marred his brief first term as prime minister. But he found more success in reorienting the course of the nation after he returned to power in 2012. The economic policies he pursued, dubbed “Abenomics”, were designed as shock therapy for an economy that had become stagnant. after a long post-war boom. Abe’s “three arrows” strategy called for a combination of monetary easing – which he convinced the Bank of Japan to support – increased government spending and other economic changes aimed at ending more two decades of lost growth.

The debate over the strategy’s effectiveness remains unsettled, although few structural changes have been enacted and the cycle of hyper-low inflation has not been broken.

Abe relied on Japan’s longstanding security alliance with the United States. Wary of an assertive China, he has also developed close ties between Japan, Asia’s richest democracy, and India, the region’s most populous. Abe was a strong supporter of the Quad, an informal gathering of Japan, India, Australia and the United States that acts as a counterbalance to Beijing. He also teamed up with Australia to salvage a major regional trade deal after Washington pulled out.

But relations with Tokyo’s closest neighbors were strained during his tenure. He supported right-wing nationalists by visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors WWII war criminals, among others. Abe also enacted laws allowing Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to fight alongside their overseas allies, which alarmed South Korea and angered China.

During a press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the shooting which left former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in critical condition. (Video: The Washington Post)

The former prime minister had long had ambitions to change Japan’s constitution. In particular, he saw in Article 9, which renounces war and prohibits an army, an obstacle to Tokyo assuming a role worthy of a regional power. But despite his considerable political skills, Abe did not muster enough support to hold the referendum needed to change the founding document of modern Japan.

Abe was arguably one of Japan’s most successful postwar prime ministers, said Jeffrey J. Hall, an expert on Japanese politics at Kanda University of International Studies, citing his record of driving the LDP many victories at the polls. But his rise to power came with support from right-wing nationalists and spurred historical revisionism, Hall added.

In the years since his departure, Abe has become a particularly outspoken critic of Beijing’s growing aggression in the Indo-Pacific region. This year, Abe urged the United States to abandon its policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan and commit to defending the self-governing island in the event of a Chinese attack.

Japan too delivered millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine to Taiwan – a transfer that Abe would have helped facilitate at a time when the island was struggling with a spike in infections. On Friday, Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen called Abe a “good friend” and “stay ally” of Taiwan.

Abe notably cultivated a close friendship with President Donald Trump when the two were in office. He was the first foreign leader to meet Trump after the 2016 election and rolled out the red carpet during the President’s state visit to Japan in 2019. Trump became the first foreign leader to meet Japan’s new Emperor, Naruhito, and took a ringside seat at the first sumo tournament of the new Imperial era, with the winner receiving a specially designed “Trump Cup”.

Abe’s successor, Yoshihide Suga, resigned after just over a year in office, in a hasty departure over his much-criticized handling of the pandemic. Japan’s current leader, Fumio Kishida, has been chosen to lead the country with Abe’s tacit support.

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