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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to talk about Japanese politics without mentioning Shinzo Abe. Not only because he was Japan’s longest-serving post-World War II prime minister (2012 to 2020) — a factor that obviously consolidated him as a transcendental politician — but because he forged a decisive role for Japan in the world that diverged from a long-standing tradition. Shinzo Abe, aged 67, was killed on July 8.
On Friday morning, he was gunned down by a former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force soldier, who bypassed strict gun control laws and, with a homemade invention, shot him twice while the former prime minister was giving a speech in the City of Nara (nearly five hundred kilometers west of Tokyo).
In what is one of the safest countries in the world, where almost no one is killed, the most influential politician in recent Japanese history was shot. Wounded in the chest and neck. Within hours, the media announced what everyone feared.
Leaders from around the world and belonging to different political ideologies came together to express their sadness for Abe’s assassination. But, above all, their admiration and respect. Because Abe, without a doubt, was one of the best prime ministers Japan ever had and was one of the most visionary, sensible and insightful world leaders still alive.
Under his administration, Japan broke with a tradition of neutrality and pacifism that it had carried over from its tragic surrender at the end of World War II. This break was urgently needed in the face of the threats arising in the Indo-Pacific region. For this reason, and although it is evident today, it is clear that Shinzo Abe was a visionary when he foresaw the imminent threat posed by the military (and nuclear) force of countries such as China and North Korea.
Abe will be remembered as one of the best statesmen of his time. Unfazed by Japanese timidity, the former prime minister envisioned leadership of an Indo-Pacific security alliance, which led him to forge a close relationship with the White House. If there was a retaining wall against China’s arbitrary and abusive efforts, it was Shinzo Abe’s willingness to stand firm against communism and socialist regimes.
Embedded in the successful political narrative of regaining national pride, Japan was for the first time vindicated as one of the most successful and prosperous countries in the world under his government. Although it was always an exemplary system, the pride in this is due in large part to the efforts of the former prime minister.
The 2007 Quadrilateral Security Alliance talks between the United States, Australia, India, and Japan — during his first government (which lasted a year) — already profiled Abe as an idealist of Asian security in the face of the advance of the illiberal powers. The prime minister’s aim at the time was to build an “Asian arc for democracy”. The achievement of adding India to a security front — which sought in a way — to emulate NATO, cannot be taken lightly.
Asia’s gratitude to Shinzo Abe was represented in the words of Taiwan’s Vice President Lai Ching-te, who, after media reports that the former Japanese premier had been shot twice, implored, “Former Prime Minister Abe, please fight for your life!”
No wonder. Shinzo Abe led Japan to become a decisive and necessary ally for Taiwan. And his steadfastness in the face of this is a legacy of generations: his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, played an important role on Taiwan’s behalf when he governed in the late 1950s.
Beyond that, Shinzo Abe’s credit for Japan’s economic recovery, thanks to his policies that transcended under the term Abenomics, is undeniable. The Economist described his economic regime as “a mix of reflation, government spending and a growth strategy designed to lift the economy out of the stagnation it has endured for more than two decades.”
Within months of the implementation of Abe’s economic plan, “the stock market rose 55%; consumer spending boosted growth in the first quarter to an annualized 3.5%; and his popularity took off to 70%.”
Under the Meiji slogan of fukoku kyohei (“Enrich the country, strengthen the army!”), Shinzo Abe rescued Japan from decades of inertia and passivity. In order to be able to defend itself, which was always the former prime minister’s wish, Japan had to be a prosperous and robust country, reinserting itself back into the arena of the world’s military and economic powers. In that sense, although Abenomics was billed as an economic stimulus plan, it was really part of a security agenda.
By revitalizing a withered Japan, Shinzo Abe achieved the unthinkable and in a matter of months catapulted the country to the Olympus of powers. His leadership was instrumental in injecting fuel into a society that always had the talent, but needed someone to sculpt it. As a result, Abe quickly became the most powerful politician and one of the most influential players in Japanese history. Even after he resigned as prime minister in 2020 citing health problems, Shinzo Abe became the leader of the largest faction in Japan’s parliament, the National Diet.
Because of his weight in national and international politics, I would dare to compare Shinzo Abe to his former Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu — with whom the Japanese had excellent relations — making him the architect of having the best relations in decades between Japan and the Jewish country. On the other hand, being a conservative, the Japanese knew that given the imminence of the turbulent times ahead, the main concern of Japanese society had to be national security. His determination to build an armored and robust Japan leaves us with the paradox of his assassination. There was not enough security to prevent a deranged man from taking his life with a homemade gunshot.
Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.