Politics & Security
The Shinzo Abe Memoir: Finding New Reasons to Lead
The middle of the memoir focuses on Shinzo Abe in his second term, Abenomics and diplomacy, through which he reshaped Japan's place among global statesmen.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (1954-2022) was felled by a cowardly assassin on July 8, 2022. With Abe's sudden death, the world thought that it had lost the voice of a great statesman forever.
In February of 2023, however, Abe's voice stirred to life again in a memoir he participated in making before his death.
Second of three parts
Read Part 1: The Shinzo Abe Memoir: A Good Way to Set the Record Straight
On August 27, 2007, Shinzo Abe appointed veteran political insiders Taro Aso to secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Kaoru Yosano (1938-2017) to the critically important post of Chief Cabinet Secretary (kanbochokan). Weeks later on September 12, Abe resigned. According to the memoir, his decision was in part due to political failure, and in part due to a chronic medical condition (ulcerative colitis).
After leaving office, Abe said he went through a season of low confidence and did not wish to reenter the political main arena. But support from average people, Abe wrote, helped him regain his political vision and vim.
What followed was what many regard as a disastrous series of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) prime ministers from September 2009 to December 2012. Then, with the support of his confidante Yoshihide Suga (and over the objections of wife, mother, and elder brother Nobuo Kishi), Abe was reelected leader of the LDP on September 26, 2012.
Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister by the Diet on December 26 of the same year.
Start of the Second Abe Administration
In many ways the next four chapters form the heart of Shinzo Abe's memoirs. Here, in chapters 3 through 6, we find Abe in the thick of political battles that would define his legacy.
Abe opened his second stint as prime minister, for example, by jumping into negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was a major trade agreement which required extensive negotiation with President Barack Obama and his team. Abe also detailed this back-and-forth in his memoirs.
The deal faced stiff opposition from inside the LDP, mainly over concern about the effect on the Japanese agricultural sector. Later, the deal was also opposed by Obama's successor, Donald J Trump.
Trusted Abroad, Headwinds at Home
Abe became a trusted friend and seasoned foreign policy veteran during his second administration. He met with Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, French presidents François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron, British prime ministers David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson, Australian prime ministers Tony Abbott and Scott Turnbull, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and many other world leaders. Abe recalled many of these encounters in his book.
At the same time, his second term was dominated by Abenomics. Abe's advisors included luminaries such as Yale professor emeritus Koichi Hamada and former Bank of Japan deputy governor Kikuo Iwata. Together they drew up the three-pronged plan of "three arrows" to beat stubborn deflationary pressures and get Japan out of the "lost decades." Meanwhile, Abe relied heavily on then-Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda to push forward the monetary policy component of Abenomics.
A major sticking point of the second administration was the Specially Designated Secrets Act, which was promulgated December 2013. Abe saw this law as necessary for making Japan more secure. Without it, Japan was not allowed to procure intelligence from foreign intelligence agencies. Abe denied comparisons of this Act to government actions in prewar Japan.
Overcoming Distorted History
On December 26, 2013, Abe finally visited Yasukuni Shrine. It was something he neglected to do during his first administration. Looking back, he viewed his earlier restraint with what he describes as "the depths of sorrowful regret."
Abe understood his Yasukuni visit was helping to overcome tendentious assessments of World War II, the Greater East Asia War. He also saw it as a way to show strength against the People's Republic of China.
The right to collective defense and the attempt to amend Japan's imposed, Occupation-era constitution were necessarily intertwined with these and other history-related issues.
Abe emerged triumphant on historical and political planes. In late April of 2015, he delivered an historic address to a joint session of Congress on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Greater East Asia War. Among other recollections, Abe discussed the preparations for this speech in entertaining detail in the memoir.
The Two Koreas
In May of 2014, Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) undertook intergovernmental consultations about the abductions issue. However, as Abe related, North Korea only reaffirmed its position that the issue had been concluded.
Without strong pressure from the United States, Abe insisted, North Korea could not be forced to take concrete action. For this reason, he expressed criticism of the Obama-era "strategic patience" policy towards the North.
There was more reason for optimism with South Korea. On December 28, 2015, Japan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) signed the Japan-South Korea Comfort Women Agreement. It was a good faith effort to put this history issue behind them.
However, the deal was sabotaged by the South Korean side. Abe related the actions of Lee Byung-kee, former director of the South Korea National Intelligence Service. At the time, he was chief of staff to then- South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Lee, said Abe, persuaded Shotaro Yachi, inaugural director of the National Security Council, to trust him on the deal.
The Japan side had been wary because the South Koreans had reneged on many agreements before. Not least among those was the 1965 treaty resolving all issues between the two nations.
Japan was right to be wary. Lee gave Yachi his word, "man to man." But the South Koreans tore up the agreement while Moon Jae In was in office.
Chapters 7 through 10 come next. They turn the spotlight on changes in Japan's approach to domestic leadership and also international diplomacy. Together, they build a picture of Japan's changing global outlook and participation.
On April 14 and 16, 2016, Kumamoto was rocked by major earthquakes. In symbolic style, the Abe administration took steps to provide relief immediately. It did not wait for aid requests from local governments.
Abe's strong leadership style was evident in other ways, too. For example, over what he calls the formidable opposition of the Ministry of Finance, Abe decided to postpone a scheduled increase in the consumption tax from 8% to 10% by two and a half years, from April 2017 to October 2019. His stated reasons included the need to privilege consumer spending over the repayment of the national debt.
Abe also took the lead in negotiations with Putin over the Northern Territories. These are lands that were stolen by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
On May 26 and 27, 2016, Putin and Abe met for a summit over the Northern Territories and the related problem of negotiating a peace treaty between the two nations. On December 15 and 16 of the same year, Putin and Abe met in Nagato, in Abe's home district of Yamaguchi Prefecture, again to discuss the Northern Territories.
Continues in final part: Shinzo Abe Memoir: Navigating the Trump Years
- Remembering Shinzo Abe: Former PM Suga’s Moving Eulogy On Behalf of Friends —Read in Full
- The Abe Legacy: A Japan Empowered by Far-reaching Reforms
- [SOCIAL WIRE] Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's State Funeral
Author: Jason Morgan
Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan
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