Accidental prime minister he was. Absolute pacifist he wasn’t. Accidental because Shinzo Abe had aspired to become a filmmaker before being inducted into his family political profession. Absolute pacifist he wasn’t because the former prime minister of Japan wanted his country to go beyond blind pacifism in a perilous world. Seen through this periscope, Abe comes across as the most pragmatic of all Japanese politicians and prime ministers. Notably, Abe was at the prime ministerial helm consecutively for 7.67 years, from 2012 to 2020. This is the longest for any Japanese politician.
Abe thus stood for his phenomenal staying power at the top. However, quirky fate willed him to end up as the first post-war Japanese prime minister to be felled by a firearm-wielding assassin. Thus, 8 July 2022, the day Abe was killed, enters Japanese history for the wrong reason.
The Dream for Deviation
The sexagenarian Abe, he was 67, was quite obsessed with his dream of putting Japan back onto the draughtboard of global power-politics. Towards realising this dream, he was prepared to convince his countrymen to accept deviations from Japan’s post-war pacifism. He wanted Japan to stop being a self hurting perennial repenter for its militant role in World War II.
Abe was right and wrong. Wrong because pacifism is Japan’s soul. Right because threats from North Korea and China were mounting. Plus, Japanese relations with China was at a risky low due to latter’s claims to the disputed Senkaku islands in South China Sea. Worse, Japan could not resolve its dispute with South Korea over forced labourers. This exposed relations between the two to fester.
A Slew of Controversies
Nevertheless, Abe practised revisionism and catalysed the creation of passive critics. To these critics, Abe was a threat to status quo. For others, Abe was a visionary deserving national decoration. Yet, Abe’s prime ministerial record is not without blemishes. His first tenure between 2006 and 2007 was marred by financial scandals forcing him to make an abrupt exit.
Abe’s record got muddied further as he could not lift Japan’s low birth rate. Making matters worse, Abe hiked consumption tax to aid nurseries and stop leakages in Japan’s social security system. Alas, this ended in a slew of controversies. His second tenure from 2012 to 2014 saw Japan neck-deep in crisis, triggered by swiftly metastasizing global financial crisis and Fukushima fallout. Pushed to the wall, in December 2012, Abe ended up concocting his signature policy Abenomics, a blend of economics and geopolitics. This eponymous policy revolves around rejuvenating Japanese economy.
The Abenomic Amalgam
Abe founded Abenomics on three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms. Respected publications went on to describe Abenomics as an amalgam of ‘reflation, government spending and growth strategy’. The policy helped Abe to salvage Japan’s jammed economy and boost its sagging stock market on a limited scale.
Encouragingly, during Abe’s tenure, the rate of growth in Japan’s national income stayed higher. At long last, the government’s debt ratio turned stable. However, Abe’s third arrow of structural reforms could not penetrate as expected. This report card shows Abe’s biggest failure is his inability to rejig the post-war constitution to make Japan a militarily prepared national entity.
A Polarising Politician
Relentless, Abe turned his focus on building an open Indo-Pacific. He took particular delight in embellishing this concept by catalysing the Quad grouping of US, Australia, Japan and India. Under his leadership, the massive trade alliance Trans-Pacific Partnership could sail through, despite a hostile Trumpian United States. Though Abe was seen as a unifying factor on the geopolitical stage, he was a polarising politician at home. He was seen as responsible for security-law protests at home, soured relations with South Korea and futile overtures to Russia.
Abe’s Greatest Regret
Despite these black spots in his political career, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party continued to be influential in Japanese politics. Abe deserves to be credited for this. In the midst of these, Abe’s greatest regret must be his failure to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution. True, Japan’s constitution is a hurdle in employing confrontation and force to settle international disputes. Against the scary backdrops of Russia’s Ukrainian aggression and China’s threatened Taiwanese invasion, Abe was clamouring for inflating Japans’ defence budget. Abe’s rationale for jacking up military spending could have convinced voters tomorrow to return him as Japan’s prime minister for a third term. He did not live to see it happening.
Sadly, Abe has been killed by the bloodying bullets of a sharpshooter. As irony would have it, the heartless slaying of Abe lends credence to his belief in Japan’s need to shed its pacifist cloak to face threats of violence. His calls for military preparedness ring so true today. Abe loved to say the world is a dangerous place. In his death, Abe stands resoundingly vindicated.