Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister of Japan, was shot and killed on Friday in Nara while giving a speech in support of his party. He was 67.
At 5:03 p.m. local time, medical personnel at the Nara Medical University hospital in central Japan declared Abe dead. Doctors said during a press conference on Friday that the patient was admitted to the hospital in a state of cardiac arrest and that they were unable to stop the excessive bleeding.
Abe led the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party of Japan for two separate terms, the first from 2006 to 2007 and the second from 2012 to 2020. The longest consecutive term held by a Japanese head of state was his second term.
Abe will be remembered for increasing defense spending and enforcing the most significant change in Japanese military strategy in the previous 70 years. His administration changed the post-World War II pacifist constitution of Japan in 2015, allowing for the first time since the Second World War for Japanese troops to fight in foreign conflicts under certain restrictions.
The change, according to Abe, was required to address a more difficult security environment, a more assertive China, and North Korea’s frequent missile tests.
Abe worked to strengthen ties with Beijing during his administration. In 2018, he spoke on the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a historic call. He also made an effort to bring together allies in the Pacific to thwart Chinese expansion in the area.
Abe maintained leadership of the LDP’s largest faction after leaving office and continued to hold significant power within the organization. He has persisted in pushing for a more robust security strategy, and last year, he infuriated China by urging allies to make a greater commitment to defending democracy in Taiwan. Beijing responded by summoning Abe’s ambassador and charging him with openly undermining Chinese sovereignty.
Abe was born to a well-known political family on September 21, 1954, in Tokyo. His father was a former secretary general of the LDP, and both his grandfather and great uncle were prime ministers.
He majored in politics at the University of Southern California and Tokyo’s Seiki University, but he started out in business by joining Kobe Steel in 1979. He was appointed the foreign affairs minister’s assistant three years later.
At the age of 38, Abe won his first election to the Japanese House of Representatives in 1993. Throughout the 2000s, he served in a number of cabinet positions. In 2003, he was appointed secretary general of the LDP. He was elected party president four years later, at which point he was appointed prime minister of Japan.
He resigned as party leader and prime minister in 2007 after his first term as president was marred by scandals and deteriorating health. Up until Abe’s reelection in 2012, five different men held the position of prime minister after the first term of Abe’s government came to an end. He retired in 2020, citing poor health.
record in diplomacy
Abe was well-known on the international stage. He tried to develop a personal relationship with former US President Donald Trump by visiting New York to meet the newly elected Republican President while former President Barack Obama was still in office. Washington is Tokyo’s traditional ally.
Abe praised the US-Japan alliance and stated he wanted to “build trust” with the new President during that “unofficial” meeting in 2016, which was Trump’s first with any world leader. He enthusiastically backed Trump’s initial tough stance toward North Korea, which was in line with Abe’s own hawkish tendencies.
Abe, however, seemed to be left out as Washington’s relations with Pyongyang leaned toward diplomacy as a result of Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Abe and Kim did not have a meeting planned, but Abe stated in September 2019 that he was still “determined” to meet Kim. Abe wanted to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and normalize relations with North Korea, but his top priority was to provide some closure to the families of Japanese nationals who had been kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan’s relations with South Korea deteriorated while he was in office. Due in part to the effects of World War II and Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula, the two nations were involved in a serious dispute that resulted in the cancellation of trade and military intelligence agreements.
Olympic “Super Mario” triumph and failure
Abe took office during a period of economic unrest and immediately began to revive Japan’s economy after years of decline. In 2012, shortly after being re-elected as prime minister, he instituted “Abenomics,” a massive experiment.
Three “arrows” were part of it: a sizable monetary stimulus, increased public spending, and structural reforms.
The plan was praised by Abe’s allies for reviving the economy of the nation and increasing investor and consumer confidence. But after a strong start, it stumbled, and Abe launched “three new arrows” in 2015 to increase the GDP. Any hopes they might eventually succeed were dashed in 2020 when Covid-19 swept the nation, sending Japan into a recession.
Securing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was one of Abe’s most notable domestic accomplishments. When Abe announced Tokyo as the next host city during the Rio Games closing ceremony in 2016, he delighted gamers everywhere by dressing as Japanese icon Super Mario.
An instant meme-worthy scene featured Abe emerging from a green pipe while the Super Mario video game’s soundtrack reverberated throughout the Maracan stadium. Abe was wearing an oversized red cap.
But the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the competition to be postponed to 2021, ultimately destroyed the success of the eagerly awaited Tokyo Games.
Japan’s tardy response to the coronavirus pandemic, which struck the nation early in 2020, was partially attributed to an initial reluctance to postpone the Games. Months after the initial cases were discovered, Abe issued a state of emergency. Another issue with his administration was the low testing frequency and the early lack of specialized medical equipment needed to treat the growing number of patients.
The abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in two centuries, was handled more successfully by Abe. In October 2019, his son Emperor Naruhito took over, officially kicking off the Reiwa era.
“We wish for the Japanese people to blossom like individual flowers with the (promise of) future, just as the plum tree’s flowers do when they bloom proudly in the spring after a chilly winter. We chose the name “Reiwa” with such a wish for Japan, Prime Minister Abe said in announcing the new era.
Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, the wife Abe married in 1987, is Abe’s only surviving spouse. There were no kids for the couple.