The leading figure in modern Japanese politics had lately been campaigning extensively against the danger of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Ill health had plagued Mr Abe leading to his first resignation in 2007 and played a part in his resignation in 2020 when his scandal-plagued government was overwhelmed by the pandemic public health crisis.
As the world mourns the tragic death of Shinzo Abe who was assassinated on Friday, his legacy will be seen as his relentless efforts to reform Japan and unite the region against the threat from a more belligerent China with repeated calls, in recent months, for the United States to publicly withdraw its policy of strategic ambiguity over Taiwan.
On Saturday morning, the body of Japan’s assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left the Nara Medical University Hospital in the western town of Kashihara in Japan’s southwestern Nara prefecture.
It later arrived at his home in Tokyo just as an intensive and expanding police investigation was launched into what appears to be a major breach of security and the life of the former leader’s assassin with it emerging that the gunman blamed the bankruptcy of his mother on a group or organisation he claimed Mr Abe was a part of.
Son of a political dynasty returned home from the political battlefield for the last time on Saturday
The body of Japan’s longest-serving government leader was accompanied in a motorcade following a black hearse as it made its way to Tokyo on Saturday.
One of the cars contained his wife Akie, a wealthy heiress whom he married in 1987 who was a former radio disc jockey with her own distinct views on politics and known in Japan as the ‘domestic opposition’ to the charismatic scion whose grandfather was also Prime Minister of Japan and whose father was a former Foreign Minister.
Abe was gunned down sometime before noon on Friday in Kashihara as he campaigned for the ruling Liberal Democrat Party ahead of Sunday’s election in the upper house of parliament for which campaigning resumed on Saturday in a determined show of force by the political community that democracy in Japan would not be thwarted by an act of terrorism.
41-year-old man identified who appeared to suffer from a personal grudge against the ex-Prime Minister
A 41-year-old assassin, named by police after his arrest at the scene as Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly admitted to officers that he killed Mr Abe due to a political grievance and a suspicion that the former PM was linked to some political organisation or grouping that police have not identified with some reports suggesting that there is no evidence that such a group even exists.
Eyewitnesses to the shooting say that Mr Yamagami approached the former PM, easily Japan’s most iconic political figure in its post-war era on Friday and withdrew a homemade gun from a case he was carrying.
As he fired the first shot, it is reported that the ex prime minister was still standing in a cloud of smoke before the assassin fired again hitting Mr Abe twice in the neck.
While the assassin was pursued and wrestled to the ground by police, the lifeless Mr Abe was taken to Nara Medical University Hospital where doctors, after carrying out blood transfusions, could not detect any vital signs in his body.
It is reported that the highly respected world statesman died from massive loss of blood and internal damage to his organs which reached down into his heart.
Medical condition that blighted his first term
Shinzo Abe suffered from a chronic medical condition known as ulcerative colitis which blighted his initial term and ultimately triggered his first resignation from office in 2007 having come to power just a year earlier in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister at the age of 52.
His surprising elevation to power in 2012 was a signal of change to Japan’s post-war politics where a rotating system of prime ministers had been the order of the day and a dynamic Shinzo Abe set about driving a series of sweeping reforms, challenging accepted consensus, both in economic and foreign policy which have left their mark on Japan.
Transformative PM who made radical changes in Japan to gear it for the severe challenges ahead
Despite bringing in a draconian State Secrecy Law in 2012 which severely penalised whistleblowing and his, at times, robust posture towards the press, the prime minister became popular through his efforts to stimulate then the world’s second-largest economy suffering from an ageing population while also negotiating reforms to encourage Japanese women to have babies which had some moderate success while conditions and salaries for mothers at work also improved.
However, it was the Japanese premier’s approach to changing Japan’s foreign policy that he will be remembered for even though he failed to change the Japanese constitution that enshrines pacifism in Article 9, he did manage to have it reinterpreted to allow defensive military preparations and activities in relation to war.
The challenges currently faced by Japan directly as the result of an ageing population and the rise of China are a cautionary tale not only for other Asian countries but across the world given that country’s economic success which peaked in the 1980s when Japan threatened to rival the United States in economic and financial terms.
Forced to resign from office in 2020 after emergency health crisis overwhelmed his ministry’s plans
Abe was forced to resign again in 2020 due to reports of a resurgence in his illness and the failure of his scandal-plagued government to cope with the public health crisis brought on by the pandemic.
US President Biden led expressions of condolences and diplomatic representations from countries all over the world on Friday and Saturday expressing shock at Mr Abe’s demise when he said he was ‘stunned, outraged and deeply saddened’ while Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, on Friday offered his condolences to the Japanese people on the death of a revered leader.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana told reporters that General Prayut was deeply saddened by the news and recalled his important role in strengthening ties between Thailand and Japan including his visit to Thailand in 2013, the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit in 11 years at that time.
Former US President Trump had a bond with Abe
Former US President Donald Trump also paid tribute to Mr Abe with whom he enjoyed a strong and genuine relationship, to such an extent that Mr Abe, at one point, was nicknamed the ‘Trump Whisperer’ for managing to persuade a bullish President Trump not to impose tariffs on Japanese imports to the United States and to instead work constructively with the key US ally.
Mr Abe will particularly be remembered for his efforts in championing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD initiative between the United States, Australia, India and Japan which has been reinvented in recent years as a key bulwark in a defensive posture by democratic countries in the region against an increasingly more belligerent and powerful China.
Proponent of a stronger alliance in Asia and a tougher stance against the emerging belligerence of China
In recent times, the former Japanese premier became a committed proponent of a more robust defensive alliance to counter China and particularly concerning the threat posed by the communist country to Taiwan’s de facto autonomy based on Beijing’s sovereignty over the island which has been accepted by the United Nations.
Abe had called on the United States to abandon its policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ on the defence of Taiwan and in a March video conference, he explained his position to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
‘Last year, at a seminar held by a Taiwan think tank, I said that if Taiwan has a problem, then Japan has a problem, and the Japan-US alliance also has a problem,’ Abe told Tsai. ‘Of course, this was a way of expressing my own sense of urgency, and I myself advocated for the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The vast Indo-Pacific Ocean where Taiwan and Japan are located must be an ocean in which we can maintain freedom and openness.’
Called for the reversal of US ‘strategic ambiguity’
A month later he was even less ambiguous in calling on the United States to throw away the ‘strategic ambiguity’ policy.
‘Given the change in circumstances since the policy of strategic ambiguity was adopted, the US should issue a statement that is not open to misinterpretation or multiple interpretations,’ Abe declared. ‘The time has come for the US to make clear that it will defend Taiwan against any attempted Chinese invasion. The human tragedy that has befallen Ukraine has taught us a bitter lesson. There must no longer be any room for doubt in our resolve concerning Taiwan and in our determination to defend freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.’