July 11, 2022

Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, who sought to lift the economy out of chronic deflation with his bold ‘Abenomics’ policies, beef up the military and counter China's growing clout… was shot and killed on Friday during an election campaign speech.” Reuters

Both sides highlight Abe’s transformative effect on Japan and international geopolitics:

“Abe is often described as a nationalist. He deserves to be remembered instead as one of the great internationalists of his era, the leading architect of collective security in the Indo-Pacific region. Throughout four U.S. presidencies—those of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden—Abe sought to secure Japan’s position against China by building alliances and institutions. On the very day of Abe’s assassination, Japanese naval forces were participating in the largest military exercise ever staged in the Pacific Ocean…

“Vessels from the United States, India, and Australia have participated in such training exercises with Japanese vessels since the biennial RIMPAC series commenced, in 2010. This year, ships from two South American nations long courted by China, Chile and Ecuador, are also taking part. They are joined by vessels from South Korea, which has a history of touchy relations with Japan; Singapore; and Sri Lanka, where China has tried to gain control of port facilities. Indonesia, the largest country in Southeast Asia, is represented, as is faraway Israel. The NATO members Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are participating too… Abe laid the foundation for all of this by conjuring into being the famous ‘Quad,’ or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, in 2007.”

David Frum, The Atlantic

“In a time in which the word ‘statesman’ is bandied with abandon, Abe was a true statesman. A staunch defender of the post-WWII world order, despite his country’s responsibility for that war and its own resulting destruction, Abe led his country back to the center of geopolitics. Not in spite of, but because of Japan’s dark history, Abe celebrated the importance of democracy and freedom in international politics, becoming one of Taiwan’s most ardent defenders. In this, as in much else, he was ahead of his time…

“He was also a visionary who authored the concept of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific,’ a strategy both Presidents Trump and Biden have embraced. It is an answer to the People’s Republic of China’s attempts to dominate Asia with its authoritarian and mercantilist vision. If the US seriously pursues, builds, and defends such an order with Japan, we will live in a prosperous and free century.”

Dan Blumenthal, American Enterprise Institute

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

“Abe announced, after Japan and South Korea agreed in late 2015 to settle the issue of comfort women, that he felt sorry for these poor people but that there was no evidence that the government of Japan had been responsible or that the state of Japan had constructed this system…[Regarding the 1937 Rape of Nanking, Abe maintained] that much of it was a fabrication, that much of it was an effort by China to smear Japan, that, in fact, nowhere near the numbers of people as claimed had been massacred, and that in many cases it was the Chinese soldiers targeting the Japanese…

What Abe was trying to do was rewrite these little parts of history, which are actually huge parts, in a way that exculpates Japan and the Japanese people from any notion they had committed any crimes or done bad things during World War Two… He also very much wanted to revisit the judgment at the war-crimes tribunal… Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister wanted a more assertive place for his country on the international stage—at the expense of atonement and historical accountability.”

Isaac Chotiner and Alexis Dudden, New Yorker

“[Abe’s] vision of a stronger Japanese state was not universally popular; his zeal for changes to strengthen the state, particularly its national security establishment, often attracted sizable protests. Older Japanese remembered the wartime state all too well and were uncomfortable with rebuilding Japan’s military power, but young Japanese, too, mobilized at times to oppose his moves. Nevertheless, at the time of his death, it appeared that the Japanese people might finally be coming around to Mr. Abe’s vision…

“Thanks in part to Russia’s war in Ukraine, a robust majority appeared to support higher levels of military spending. Even Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a self-proclaimed liberal dove, has indicated his support for higher military spending to boost the capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, a sign of just how much Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party came to share his vision during his 30-year career… After waging what was at times a lonely fight, Mr. Abe died just as the Japanese people were possibly coming to appreciate his vision of a strong state capable of defending the nation in a dangerous world.”

Tobias Harris, New York Times

From the Right

“Unlike some advocates of ‘rules-based’ systems, Abe understood that the idea of regional security was meaningless without the threat of military force. More than any other post-war Japanese prime minister, Abe was responsible for breaking Japan out of the quasi-pacifist stance it had assumed since 1945. He insisted that Japan had to increasingly shoulder its share of the defense burden with the United States, and that this had to be reflected in Japan’s defense budget…

“Of all Abe’s legacies for his own country, this may be the most important. He saw a growing defense budget (it reached an all-time post-war high during Abe’s last year in office) as a sign not only of national health, but also of Japan’s commitment to helping to contain the growing threat from China and the long-standing ballistic-missile threat from North Korea. This is why the effort by the liberal media to portray Abe as an ‘ultra-nationalist’ has it exactly backwards. He understood that a strong and assertive Japan was an essential part of the fabric of peace and security in Asia, and a key to preserving a liberal international order in the face of China’s ambition to overthrow that order.”

Arthur Herman, National Review

Abe was a staunch ally of the United States and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister since World War II. But NPR decided to call him a ‘divisive arch-conservative.’ After deleting that tweet, NPR settled on calling him an ‘ultranationalist.’ It’s a stark contrast from how the outlet, which receives taxpayer funding, referred to communist Fidel Castro, stating that he ‘inspired both passionate love and hate’ and that ‘many who later lost faith in him can remember how they once admired’ him…

“The same was true at the Associated Press. The outlet’s headline for Castro’s death glorified him as the man ‘who defied U.S. for 50 years.’ For Venezuela’s communist tyrant Hugo Chavez, he was remembered as a ‘fiery Venezuelan leader.’ But Abe ‘leaves a divided legacy,’ presumably because he opposed communists who oppress their own people as opposed to being one of them… This disgraceful practice of shaming people labeled as conservative after death while glorifying or whitewashing the lives of communists and terrorists deserves its own obituary.”

Zachary Faria, Washington Examiner

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