ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Shinzo Abe: For Japan’s Longest-Serving PM, India Was an All-Important Ally

Not so well-known is the fact that Abe is the real architect of what is today called the ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’.

Published
Opinion
6 min read
story-hero-img
i
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large
Hindi Female

Shinzo Abe (67), who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 2006 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2020, was assassinated on Friday in the western Japanese city of Nara while giving a campaign speech for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. This was a stunning development in a country known for its stringent rules on the possession of guns.

Abe was one of the most consequential prime ministers of post-war Japan. His record-setting term brought political stability to Japan, which had seen a quick succession of prime ministers earlier. It also pushed the country to play a greater role in regional and global politics and take a more active approach towards its own defence issues.

Snapshot
  • Shinzo Abe (67), who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 2006 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2020, was assassinated on Friday in the western Japanese city of Nara.

  • The rise of China and its attempts at maritime coercion in the Senkaku/Diayou islands in the mid-2000s triggered Abe’s pursuit of an Indo-Pacific strategy, in which he saw India as a key element.

  • Since PM Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to India in 2005, India-Japan ties have been growing well. Abe’s visit to India in August 2007 has been a landmark of sorts.

  • Abe said he had earlier spoken to India “of the need for the Indian and Japanese governments to join together to shoulder more responsibility as guardians of navigational freedom across the Pacific and Indian Oceans”.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

India Was a Key Element in Abe's Indo-Pacific Strategy

Abe was the son of former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe and grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who had been the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit India. Shinzo Abe was political royalty in the country and has been the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history till now. Not so well-known is the fact that he is the real architect of what is today called the ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’.

Abe was always a hawk on defence and foreign policy issues and wanted to amend Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution.

This alarmed neighbours such as China and South Korea, given the depredations of the Japanese military in World War II. In turn, the rise of China and its attempts at maritime coercion in the Senkaku/Diayou islands in the mid-2000s triggered Abe’s pursuit of an Indo-Pacific strategy, in which he saw India as a key element.

Given the political divisions in Japan, Abe was not able to see a revision of the constitution. But he did succeed in leading the country to formally participate in the right to “collective self-defence”, which means that Japan can participate in wars to defend itself and its allies if they came under attack.

An important evolution of Abe’s thinking led to what is called the Indo-Pacific ‘strategy’ and its key instrument, the Quadrilateral Security Grouping, or the ‘Quad’.

In 2004, the Indian, American and Japanese navies came together to provide humanitarian assistance after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Three years later, in 2007 at the suggestion of Shinzo Abe, who had become Prime Minister of Japan in 2006, they constituted a Quadrilateral Security Grouping (Quad), which involved Japan, the US, India and Australia in Manila. However, the whole thing came apart when Abe resigned as Prime Minister later that year due to illness.

0

The 'Confluence of the Two Seas'

Since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to India in 2005, India-Japan ties have been growing well. Abe’s visit to India in August 2007 has been a landmark of sorts. In a speech to Parliament during the visit, he referred to Dara Shikoh’s 1655 book, Confluence of the Two Seas, and spoke about how “the Pacific and Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and prosperity”.

Since then, Japan began to play a significant role in India’s development through the provision of its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which has helped build the Delhi and Chennai rail metros, the western-dedicated freight corridor, the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, and other roads, bridges and bypasses.

Another prestige project that Japan is undertaking is the high-speed rail corridor between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Japan into India has increased steadily – it is now the fourth-largest investor in the country.

In 2014, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo, the two countries upgraded their relationship to a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”. After Abe’s return visit to New Delhi in 2015, the two countries signed two agreements, one on the transfer of military equipment and technology and another on the protection of classified military information.

During Modi’s second official visit to Japan in October 2018, the two countries signed a Japan-India Vision statement that committed them to work together towards a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.

ADVERTISEMENT

Abe's 'Lake Beijing' Fear About South China Sea

Under Abe, Japan first began to participate in the Indo-US Malabar exercise in 2007. Later, after a gap of some years, the Japanese once again rejoined the exercises and have been participating in them since 2014, when it developed a sharper Indo-Pacific focus.

In an article that appeared a day after he returned as Prime Minister on 26 December 2012, Abe referred to his 2007 India speech and said that the intervening five years had confirmed his perspective.

He spoke of China’s military growth and its coercion around the Senkaku/Diayou islands and his worry that the South China Sea could become a “Lake Beijing”.

Abe said he had earlier spoken to India “of the need for the Indian and Japanese governments to join together to shoulder more responsibility as guardians of navigational freedom across the Pacific and Indian Oceans”.

Abe also said he envisaged a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan and the US form “a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific”.

In January 2013, Abe was supposed to deliver a speech in Jakarta but was not able to do so. However, the speech was distributed to the media and its theme was the importance of keeping the seas of Asia “unequivocally open, free and peaceful”. Referring to the US “pivot” to Asia, Abe said that the Japan-US alliance “must effect a network, broad enough to ensure safety and prosperity encompassing the two oceans”.

Formally, though, Abe’s speech of August 2016 in Kenya is said to be the first one he delivered calling for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. This was at the opening session of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, where he spoke of the “union of two free and open oceans and two continents”.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Abenomics'

The cornerstones of Abe’s foreign and security policy were relations with the United States. So, it is not surprising that despite Donald Trump’s disdain for allies and concerns about trade deficits, Abe was able to build a strong relationship with him using a mix of policy shifts and outright flattery. This eventually shaped the US decision to embark on its Indo-Pacific policy, which even led to the renaming of the US Pacific Command as the US Indo-Pacific Command. It also led to the rebirth of the Quad in a meeting attended by Abe, Prime Minister Modi, US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Trumbull in Manila in November 2017, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.

Abe also came to be known for his “Abenomics” when he sought to push the Japanese economy on a path of faster growth. After a lengthy boom, the Japanese economy had gone into a prolonged recession and Abe sought to use a “three-arrow strategy” to revive it. This involved a policy of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms. Just how successful the policy has been is a matter of debate, though only a few of the reforms were actually passed.

However, the Japanese economy went into recession in early 2020, and later, in the midst of the COVI-19 pandemic, Abe’s illness resurfaced, compelling him to resign in August 2020.

But he remained a major figure in Japanese politics as the head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), from where he continued to push his agenda of calling for a militarily strong Japan that could deal with the multiple threats of a rising China, an unpredictable North Korea and a difficult Russia.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from opinion

Topics:  Japan   Shinzo Abe   India-Japan 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
ADVERTISEMENT
×
×