GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 645, 10 July 2022

Japan: Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination and his legacy
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 8 July, the former Prime Minister of Japan and serving member of the House of Representatives Shinzo Abe was assassinated at a political rally in the Nara Prefecture. Abe was rallying for his party Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate when he was shot from behind. He was declared dead five and a half hours after being rushed to Nara Medical University Hospital. 

The assassination was carried out by a former member of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force Tetsuya Yamagami who held Abe responsible for his family’s bankruptcy caused by the Unification Church. The accused used a homemade gun resembling a double-barreled shot gun. Other explosives and homemade weapons were found at the suspect’s house, who is now in police custody. 

Heads of States around the world responded to Abe’s death with great remorse and expressed their condolences. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s President Xi Jinping, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol and many more leaders across the world expressed their shock and recounted Abe’s achievements and praiseworthy decisions during his tenure as the leader of Japan. 

The Quad also issued a joint statement at the assassination and was signed by the US, Australia and India. The heads of states pledged to “honour Abe’s memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region.” 

What is the background?
First, Abe’s political career. Shinzo Abe was Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister. He served as the Chief Cabinet Secretary for a year in 2005. He held the office of the Prime Minister in 2006 for a year and came back in power in 2012 for eight years. Abe entered Japanese politics in 1993 and took the office of the Prime Minister for the second time when Japan was dealing with the impact of the Great Recession of 2008. His appointment as the 96th Prime Minister came after years of short-term leadership and rampant sudden resignations by the former leaders due to lack of support, dissolution of the house, and other controversies. At the peak of his career in 2020, he stepped down from his position citing his health issues. 

Second, internal policies. While Japan’s economy was suffering setbacks from the state of the global economy, Abe introduced an economic policy which was later named after him, Abenomics. The policy was aimed at economic revitalization through monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms. The policy received wide support within and outside the country. Other than the structural reforms, Abe was able to revive the GDP growth rates and stabilized ratio of government debt for the first time in decades. The structural reforms brought in by Abe aimed to increase the proportion of women in the workforce, establishing inexpensive day-cares for children and initiate a robotic revolution to deal with the shrinking population. 

Third, foreign affairs during Abe’s tenure. Abe was known as a conservative and a right-wing Japanese nationalist who aimed to change the country’s defence policies and amend the post-war constitution. The latter was heavily criticized by China who condemned the Imperialist era of Japan in the pre-war period. Abe was successful in bridging the gap between the neighbouring countries by meeting the Chinese President Xi Jinping at numerous occasions and discussing the challenges in bilateral issues. Abe maintained a close relationship with the US, further antagonizing the Chinese. Despite the hostility, Abe was firm on Japan’s control over the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands pushed for constitutional reforms to revive Japan’s defence until the end of his tenure. He pushed for a stronger defence in the Indo-Pacific region and pitched the idea of the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue”, now known as Quad, in 2007. 

Fourth, gun-related violence in Japan. The gun laws in Japan are extremely strict and the individuals are required to pass a written test, psychiatric evaluation, drug test, criminal background check and a gun skills competency test. The guns per capita in Japan is 0.6 per cent while in the US is at 88.8 per cent. The use of ammunitions is entirely controlled by the government and it is highly rare to have gun-related violence in the country. 

What does it mean?
The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe comes as a shock because of the non-violent and practically rare gun related violence in the country. He was an asset to Japan who led the country during challenging political and economic times. His contributions to the economic revival have played a key role in Japan’s status and stature in the international order in the present times. He foresaw the threats of militarization in the region and rallied support to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. Abe efficiently managed Japan’s foreign relations between the US and China at a time when there was growing hostility and trade wars between the global superpowers. Abe’s assassination is an unfortunate event in the history of Japan. 

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