Statesmen come along only once in a great while. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was murdered on July 8 in Nara, Japan was a statesman.
He was the first of the 20-odd Japanese prime ministers to deserve the title in the last 35 years since Yasuhiro Nakasone held office.
Even though he had stepped down in 2020, he was still playing an important role pushing to build Japan’s defenses, strengthen the United States-Japan Alliance, support Taiwan, and take on the looming threat from Communist China.
He will be sorely missed.
The Abe Vision
Abe had a strategic vision of Japan’s role in the world. He recognized that Japan could no longer sit quietly, writing the occasional check, while events unfolded around it.
Foremost, he saw that close ties with the United States are indispensable for Japan – and that forging a strong Japan-US relationship required Tokyo to become a more useful ally. And by playing an active regional and global role – including militarily – Japan could raise its stature – and its influence.
To this end, Abe traveled the world. Being seen and heard made a difference, and contrasted starkly with the low international profile of most previous Japanese prime ministers.
Abe also directed the Japan Self-Defense Forces to expand military-to-military engagements, exercises and talks throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and even in Europe. This was unthinkable just a few years earlier.
Moreover, following Abe’s success in relaxing defense hardware export rules, Japan provided used aircraft and ships to the Philippines and Vietnam in an act of strategic vision.
He also tried to sell Japanese submarines to Australia. This would have upended the regional strategic order – in a good way – had Australia’s Turnbull administration not lost its nerve and canceled what was reportedly a done deal.
The Australians instead went with a French bidder and a few years later the deal was terminated as an embarrassing, expensive failure.
Although China predictably complains, Japan’s military outreach is even now well-received in the region, with Australia, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Pacific Island nations and others welcoming Japanese security cooperation.
Read the rest at JapanForward.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute