Shinzo Abe never accomplished his ambition of changing Japan’s Constitution to make it a “normal nation,” able to use its military to support its national interests like any other, during his record-breaking term as prime minister.
Not only that, but he failed to return Japan’s technological and economic prowess to its dreadful levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Japan was considered to be what China is now — the world’s No. 2 economy with the ability to quickly rise to the top with organisation, cunning, and central planning.
However, his murder in Nara on Friday served as a reminder that despite speaking in the monotone tones that Japanese politicians view as a survival skill, he managed to become one of the most transformative leaders in Japan’s post-World War II history.
With Russia and China still not resolved, he moved the nation closer to the United States and the majority of its Pacific allies (except South Korea, where old animosities ruled).
First, he established Japan’s first national security council, and then, virtually by fiat, overruled the constitutional prohibitions on Japan’s commitment to “collective defence.” Most Japanese legislators believed he was crazy for spending so much money on military.
Richard Samuels, head of M.I.T.’s Center for International Studies and author of books on Japan’s military and intelligence capabilities, said, “We didn’t know what we were going to get when Abe came to government with this harsh nationalist image.” In the end, what we got was a realistic realist who grasped the limitations of Japan’s might, and who realised it couldn’t balance China’s ascent on its own. In response, he came up with a new system. ”
When Russia attacked Ukraine this year, Mr. Abe was no longer in government. Despite this, he nonetheless had a strong impact on Japan’s decision to phase out Russian coal and oil imports after a 10-week delay. To strengthen his argument, Mr. Abe said that Japan should negotiate some type of nuclear sharing arrangement with the United States, violating his country’s longstanding taboo on questioning the rationality of owning an arsenal.
In his attempts to modify Japan’s post-war, American-written Constitution, Mr. Abe recognised that Japan’s friends were more important than ever before. However, partnerships included reciprocal defence obligations. In the face of growing threats from China and North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to give a gold-plated Trump Tower golf club to the president-elect only a few days after he was inaugurated.
According to early evaluations, Mr. Abe’s hard-line beliefs, which at times sparked public demonstrations and peace marches in Japan, were not to blame for his death. And it wasn’t an act of revenge for the 1930s New York Times bureau chief in Tokyo, Hugh Byas, who wrote a biography about the period under the title “Government by Assassination,” that killed him.
There have been just two political killings in Japan after World War II: the assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki in 2007 and the assassination of a Socialist leader in 1960. Also in the 1960s, the American ambassador to Japan, Edwin O. Reischauer, was attacked by a Japanese teenager, but survived and returned to Harvard University as the university’s foremost expert on Japanese political affairs.
An all-out battle to succeed Mr. Abe as head of one of the most powerful groups inside Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party will now ensue after his death. It’s going to have a “deep influence on the mentality of the Japanese people,” President Biden said on Friday when visiting the C.I.A.
But it won’t have much of an impact on the political landscape. In part due to his deteriorating health, Mr. Abe stepped down from his position as Prime Minister two years ago. On the other hand, in today’s pantheon of international leaders, President Obama couldn’t even come close to Presidents Xi Jinping of China or Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Scholars, on the other hand, predict that his legacy will endure. Japan’s national security state was transformed by Abe’s leadership, according to former top Bush administration official Michael J. Green. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is credited for influencing the West to resist China’s growing aggression in Asia, according to Green’s book “Line of Advantage: Japan’s Grand Strategy During the Era of Abe Shinzo”.
Mr. Abe, of course, was no slouch when it came to using dirty tricks to accomplish what he wanted. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a monument to Japan’s war dead, including war criminals, in 2013 because he thought Japan had repented sufficiently for its war crimes.
Before becoming prime minister in the 1950s, Mr. Abe’s grandfather was accused of war crimes and was buried in Yasukuni. Abe’s father was a conservative foreign minister and the head of Japan’s industrial strategy, which was overseen by the ministry of international commerce and industry.
He returned to the job of Prime Minister in 2012 with some trepidation among White House staffers, but they eventually warmed to him. Obama and Abe visited Hiroshima, where the United States detonated the first atomic bomb, to lay a wreath and pay their respects to the victims of the attack.
Mr. Abe made a u-turn after the election of Mr. Trump. Additionally, he flew to Mar-a-Lago, where Melania Trump’s birthday was celebrated, to bring her a gold-plated golf club. Because Japan has a trade surplus with the United States, Mr. Trump threatened to withdraw American soldiers from the nation. Throughout it all, Mr. Abe maintained a calm demeanour, as if he were patiently awaiting the end of a storm.