Abenomics, Nationalism, Support to India: Shinzo Abe, Japan's Longest-Serving PM

Shinzo Abe, who was shot in the city of Nara while delivering a campaign speech on Friday, has passed away.

6 min read
Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

Video Producer: Aparna Singh

Video Editor: Shohini Bose

"He is pursuing a vision of Japan where the Japanese economy is reinvigorated and where Japan makes greater contributions to security and peace in the region and around the world. So, Shinzo, thank you," former US President Barack Obama had said in April 2015 when Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, had visited the White House.

Abe was shot dead in the city of Nara while delivering a campaign speech, the Japanese government confirmed on Friday, 8 July.

A man, identified as Yamagami Tetsuya (41), has been arrested for the killing. He is reportedly a former Maritime Self-Defense Force member, according to The Japan Times.

Known for his economic policies that revived the Japanese economy from year of deflation, and for his right-wing stance on Japan's history and foreign policy, Abe has left a deep imprint on the country's politics.


Early Life

Abe was born to a powerful political family in Tokyo on 21 September 1954.

On 7 December 1941, Japan conducted its infamous attack on the naval base in Pearl Harbour, and declared war against the US. A man named Nobusuke Kishi co-signed the declaration of war. He was also the prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960.

Kishi, according to the Wall Street Journal, was an "economic king" in Manchukuo (after Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931) in Japanese-occupied China (in Northeast China today).

He married his cousin Yoshiko Kishi, and their daughter Yōko married a politician named Shintaro Abe, who was the foreign minister of Japan during the early 1980s.

His son, Shinzo Abe, went on to become the longest-serving PM of Japan.

Abe graduated from Seikei University in 1977 with a bachelor's in political science. He then went to the US, and studied public policy at the University of Southern California.

After a quick stint with Kobe Steel, a major steel manufacturer in Japan, he began working for the government, with some of his positions being:

  • Executive assistant to the minister of foreign affairs

  • Private secretary to the chairperson of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) General Council

  • Private secretary to the LDP secretary-general

The LDP is a conservative party in Japan created in 1955, which has led the government continuously since its formation except for four years – a year between 1993 and 1994 and three years between 2009 and 2012.

Abe, as discussed in greater detail subsequently, was president of the LDP from September 2006 to September 2007, and from September 2012 to September 2020.


Rise to Power

Abe first tasted power in 1993 when he was elected to the House of Representatives, representing the Yamaguchi Prefecture. But that was just the beginning.

He went on to serve as deputy chief cabinet secretary under two prime ministers – Yoshirō Mori (2000-2001) and Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006).

As Koizumi's tenure was nearing its end, Abe, on 23 April 2006, got elected as LDP president. And just a few months later, he was elected as the prime minister in September at the age of 52 (the youngest to hold the post before him was Fumimaro Konoe during WWII, who presided over the attack on Pearl Harbour).

During his first term, his economic policy did not deviate too much from his predecessor's. Abe is more known for his foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis North Korea.

Under him, the LDP went on to suffer big losses in the upper house election in 2007, making it the first time that the party had lost control in more than five decades.

Combined with a series of political scandals, Abe resigned as prime minister on 26 September 2007, after spending exactly one year in office.


'Abenomics': Return to Power

Abe was re-elected as LDP president on 26 September 2012, and in two months, he became prime minister of Japan for the second time with what he called a "crisis-busting cabinet."

He is famous for executing during his second term economic policies that are collectively known as "Abenomics," the "three arrows" of which are:

  • Easing of the monetary policy

  • Fiscal policy: more government spending

  • Structural reforms to induce economic growth

There is much debate about the effects of Abenomics. While some experts say that the Japanese economy saw strong macroeconomic performances, others say that Abe's policies fell short of effecting real change.

Nevertheless, on 24 December 2014, Abe was re-elected as PM by the House of Representatives, for his third term, until he called for a snap election in 2017, which he won pretty comfortably.

By November 2019, he became Japan's longest-serving PM, and by August 2020, he became Japan's longest-serving PM in terms of consecutive days in office.

Abe's health (he was suffering from ulcerative colitis) worsened by June 2020, and he announce on 28 August that he will resign as the prime minister soon.

His successor, Yoshihide Suga, took over by 16 September.


Right-Wing Nationalism & 'Historical Revisionism'

Abe has been labelled by many commentators as a right-wing nationalist, and has also been called out for his denials of Japan's war crimes during the Second World War.

For instance, in 2007, he had denied to reporters the history of the "comfort women," who were women and girls sexually enslaved by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories of the war, a denial that seriously deteriorated Japan's relations with South Korea (Japan-occupied Korea from 1910-1945), despite his hardline stance on North Korea.

A Washington Post editorial from 2007 criticised what it called Abe's "campaign to roll back Japan's acceptance of responsibility for the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II."

He has also made attempts to downplay wartime atrocities in school textbooks. A chunk of the Japanese media and much of international media, therefore, considers Abe to be a historical revisionist.

Abe's 2012 campaign slogan was called "Take back Japan".

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (drafted during post-war US occupation) stated that the country's "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be sustained," and that "the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." Abe kept advocating a reinterpretation of that provision.


COVID-19 and Tokyo Olympics 

The Abe government's approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic has been heavily criticised.

Relatively low levels of testing and the way in which the case of the Diamond Princess cruise ship was handled contributed to his unpopularity.

Things got so serious that the LDP's junior coalition partner, the Komeito party, threatened to leave the ruling coalition.

With respect to the 2020 Olympics (held in 2021), Abe played a leading role in attracting the Games to Tokyo. He was also, however, criticised for being hesitant to postpone the Olympics due to the pandemic.

After they were finally postponed, he stated that the Games "must be held in a way that shows the world has won its battle against the coronavirus pandemic."


Foreign Policy and Military Reform

Abe is known for his pragmatic foreign policy. He developed a strong relationship with the United States, especially with President Donald Trump.

More importantly, however, he managed to improve relations with President Xi and ensured a practical relationship with China devoid of grave hostility.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, he is blamed for causing tensions between Japan and South Korea.

With respect to the military, he tried to make significant reforms with a new national security strategy.

In 2018, his administration adopted a ten-year defence plan as well. But perhaps his important (and even decried) move was reinterpreting Article 9 to allow the military, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF), to cooperate with foreign militaries for the country's security and protection.

Abe could not, however, achieve his main goal of amending the Constitution vis-à-vis Article 9.


Japan's Ties With India Under Abe

In 2014, Abe is the first prime minister of Japan to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade. His governments deeply engaged with India on multiple issues.

Abe had visited India for the first time in 2007, on a trip during which he established the foundations of one of the main pillars of India-Japan ties for a stable and secure Indo-Pacific region.

In September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abe agreed to strengthen ties with respect to maritime security, infrastructure, and Indo-Pacific strategy.

Most notably, however, it was the Abe government in Japan that threw its support behind India during the latter's military standoffs with China.

In August 2017, when the Doklam standoff occurred and India accused of China of changing the status quo, the Japanese government stated that "all parties involved should not resort to unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force."

A similar statement was put out by Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki during the 2020 standoff near the Galwan Valley, Spanggur Tso, and Pangong Tso.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the morning of Friday when the shooting was first reported, had tweeted that he was "deeply distressed" by the attack on his "dear friend Abe Shinzo." He added that his prayers were with him, his family and the people of Japan.

After Abe's demise was confirmed, PM Modi tweeted his condolences, calling one of his "dearest friends" a "towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator."

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Topics:  Japan   Shinzo Abe   Japanese PM Shinzo Abe 

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