Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan, was shot twice during his speech on a street in the city of Nara on Friday at a political campaign rally and passed away in the hospital. The assassination of Abe at a political gathering in the city of Nara by a lone gunman using a homemade weapon represents the kind of political violence we have not seen in Japan since the early 1960s. Japan having one of the lowest rates of crime in the world adds to the shock of the elderly statesman’s passing. But now, it intensifies the impression of a chaotic, crisis-ridden globe, in which democracies, in particular, seem to be under attack. Nobuo Kishi, the defence minister and Abe’s younger brother, referred to the incident as “an attack on democracy.” The phrase “We want democracy, not violence” quickly became popular on Japanese social media.
Shinzo Abe was born in Tokyo to a well-known political family. From 1957 to 1960, his grandfather Kishi Nobusuke presided as prime minister of Japan, and from 1964 to 1972, his great-uncle Sato Eisaku did likewise. Abe started serving as his father Abe Shintaro’s secretary in 1982 when his father was Japan’s foreign minister. Abe had taken over as prime minister of the nation in 2006, but he left office in 2007 owing to sickness. He once again presided over as the prime minister in 2012 and became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister (2012–2020). In contrast to prior administrations, which had five different prime ministers over a period of six years, Abe’s eight-year rule was stable.
Shinzo Abe led to the creation of Japan’s first national security council while organising the bureaucracy differently which led to a synchronised policy for security, highly contentious national security legislation allowing the country’s military to defend allies abroad, loosened arms export regulations, and the removal of spending caps on defence to increase Japan’s military budget like the Senkaku Islands. He expanded Japan’s ballistic missile defence capabilities and made Japan one of the closest allies of Taiwan, increasingly calling for its freedom. There were also some changes in the nations’ intelligence institutions. Under him, the Article 9 of Japanese constitution was made weaker in force as Japanese troops were deployed overseas in support of its allies. His “Abenomics” was profound for bringing Japan out of an economic plateau by bringing economic policies that would involve in the rapid flowing of the country’s money supply, making the nation more competitive. Another aspect of Abenomics was the unconventional central bank policy which would provide negative short term interest rates made for borrowing and spending cheap for consumers.
During his first brief term as prime minister, Shinzo Abe recognised India as a crucial bilateral and multilateral partner with Japan. As a geopolitical strategist, he has been at his best considering its defence cooperation and brining Japan’s huge role in the Indo-Pacific. In 2007, he became the first ever Japanese PM to address a joint session of Indian Parliament where he gave the historic “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech which laid the groundwork for his vision of the Indo-Pacific. It was when India was internally debating and negotiating the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement among the government’s coalition partners. In 2008, both India and Japan had security agreement which led to the negotiations on Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement. As part of “immense network covering the entire Pacific Ocean, embracing the United States of America and Australia,” he saw it as a “broader Asia” coming together.
While focusing on “free and open” Indo-Pacific”, Abe officially proposed of the Quad in 2007. He had realised that China was becoming more interested in Indo-Pacific waters. Quad 1.0, was however short-lived when Australia withdrew from the negotiations a few months later. Although, following the growing Chinese aggression in the Pacific and Doklam border, Abe mooted the idea of bringing back the Quad. In November 2017, India, Japan, Australia and US officials assembled in Manila to revive Quad on the side-lines of the East Asia Summit. The first ever QUAD summit was held virtually in 2021 followed by another meeting in Tokyo in 2022.
Shinzo Abe made the most trips of any Japanese prime minister during his second term, travelling to India three times (in January 2014, December 2015, and September 2017). A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in 2011 expanded their bilateral trade, with Japan becoming India’s 12th largest trading partner, and fourth largest investor by 2020. Japan and India have a special economic relationship with infrastructure projects they have taken on together like the Dedicated Freight Corridor and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Abe campaigned the Shinkansen Bullet Train high-speed rail project in 2015, a more ambitious but essential infrastructure necessity for India. In 2014, when Prime Minister Modi went to Japan went to Japan, it was still unclear about the Indo-Japan nuclear deal, with Tokyo being very careful about a pact with non-NPT member nation. In 2016, Japan and India signed a civil nuclear pact, eliminating Japan’s resistance to India as a nuclear power. India and Japan formed the Act East Forum in 2017 and are working on projects in the Northeast. The two countries also conducted joint military drills, naval exercises, and counterterrorism operations. Under Abe’s leadership, Japan provided more Official Development Assistance (ODA) to India although the nation had already extended a decline in total ODA. Being one of the foremost strategists, Abe was remarkably calm, nuanced, and a smart leader in terms of outlining how the Indo-Pacific region should develop during a time of strong authoritarian governments. With his deep study of Asian history and his adeptness at navigating many cultures have given him the power to act in Japan’s best interests while simultaneously having an impact on other Asian nations. He personally strengthened Indo-Japan’s bilateral relationship and with his passing we have lost a mignifico in India-Japan friendship.
In the current scenario, India will seek this type of continuity with the Kishida administration—and beyond—in their engagement in regional diplomacy, dedication to the development of connectivity and infrastructure, and pursuit of solid bilateral ties with Japan.
(Research Associate at CPRG India)
(Research Intern at CPRG India)