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Shinzo Abe: The Statesman Faced the Security Crisis and His Critics Head-on

The former Japanese prime minister was a rare leader with a global perspective on foreign policy, explains former US Marine Corps colonel Grant Newsham.



Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

When former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot to death in Nara on July 8, it hit international headlines almost instantly. Within moments after the incident, JAPAN Forward had also reported this tragic, unprecedented news to the world. 

Since then, JAPAN Forward has extensively covered Mr Abe’s death and its aftermath, dedicating a new subcategory in his name under the Politics and Security section of its website.

The JAPAN Forward editorial office received many condolences from foreign readers mourning Mr Abe’s death. They included some hard-hitting questions:

“How could something like this happen in a peaceful country like Japan?”

“Why couldn’t this be prevented?”

A reader also pointed out that the motive stated by 41-year-old suspect Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene of the crime, was too unnatural, and that there was probably more to uncover.

Japan will need to work on responding to each of these questions and addressing these doubts. But certain things about former PM Abe are beyond doubt. 

He had an impressive international profile. His life had a profound impact on countries and people throughout the world, and his sudden death was mourned and lamented by many.

With prayers and flowers, many people visited the scene where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot on July 8 in Nara City (photo by Mizue Torikoshi)

Statesman and Defender

The article linked here is an obituary published by JAPAN Forward on July 9, the day after Mr Abe’s assassination. It was contributed by Grant Newsham, a former United States Marine Corps colonel and senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, where Mr Abe served as chief advisor.

He called Mr Abe a “statesman” and a “defender” of Japan’s national interests. And he noted that Abe was a rare leader with a global perspective on foreign policy, unlike many of Japan’s previous prime ministers who had been relatively inconspicuous to the international eye. 

Mr Newsham highlighted many of Mr Abe’s major achievements in Japan’s defense and regional relationships. He had made the pivotal decision to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities in the face of the growing China threat and consolidated Japan-US security arrangements. He also provided vital leadership in the creation of regional cooperation frameworks such as the Quad, a security alliance between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, along with his concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Although Mr Newsham had surmised that such an active defense and foreign policy would lapse once Mr Abe left office, he was happy to be proven wrong. Mr Abe’s successors continued the course that he had set out. 

Mr Newsham concludes, “Japan is fortunate to have had him, and so are the Americans and other free nations.”

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is flanked by U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Taking On the Critics

But not everyone regretted Mr Abe’s death. On Weibo, a Chinese take on Twitter, an insolent bunch celebrated the shooting with a celebratory sale. Similar insolence has also been seen in Japan.

Mr Abe had endeavored to convince his critics of the merits of his policies by facing them head-on, and this was one of the reasons why people were attracted to him. 

Japan is a peaceful and safe country — or so everyone thought. Where Mr Abe’s death shattered the Japanese postwar illusion of peace, his policy highlighted the importance of joining forces to stand up to the Russian, Chinese, and North Korean powers that pursue military expansion to overthrow the world order.

The world, including Japan, will need to find a way to overcome the serious crisis at its doorstep.

Five years ago, when JAPAN Forward was still in its infancy, Mr Abe expressed his delight in the birth and growth of an English-language news and opinion website that aims to share the true voice and face of Japan with the world. JAPAN Forward offers its heartfelt condolences.

Without fear or compromise, JAPAN Forward will continue to share the true voice of Japan with the world, so that more people will come to know the true Japan. 

Watch for our next issue on August 15.

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Author: Editor in Chief, JAPAN Forward

(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

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