Japan former PM Shinzo Abe has died following shooting incident, a look at his political life

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe who was shot in Nara Prefecture at around 11:30 a.m. (local time) has passed on. One man, who appeared to fire the gunshot, has been arrested.

Abe was shot on Friday while campaigning for a national election the government said, with public broadcaster NHK saying he appeared to have been shot from behind by a man with a shotgun.

Kyodo news agency and NHK said Abe, 67, appeared to be in a state of cardiac arrest when airlifted to hospital, after having initially been conscious and responsive.

Shinzo Abe’s political life

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, launched his “Abenomics” policies to lift the economy out of deflation, beefed up Japan’s military and sought to counter China’s growing clout in a historic two-term tenure.

Shinzo Abe took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. Abe expressed a general commitment to the fiscal reforms instituted by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, and central to his agenda was to revise Japan’s US -drafted 1947 constitution.

“Today, I launched a cabinet that aims to produce a beautiful country,” Abe said during his inauguration.

A scandal-tainted minister in Abe’s cabinet committed suicide in May 2007, compounding problems for the Japanese leader whose support had slumped to its lowest level since he took office.

Abe’s shock resignation on September 24, 2007, sent his ruling party scrambling to find a new leader who could revive public support following an election defeat in July and a string of scandals.

Abe, who had taken office a year before, said he was quitting to try to resolve a deadlock over a naval mission supporting US -led operations in Afghanistan. Senior officials said health problems were also a factor in Abe’s decision.

The resignation came after a big defeat for the LDP in an election for parliament’s upper house.

“I will resign from my post of prime minister tomorrow.”

On September 25, 2007, Abe turned up at the prime minister’s offices to officially resign, dissolve his cabinet and make way for his successor Yasuo Fukuda.

Abe got a second chance at running the country in late 2012 after the conservative LDP surged to power, but he faced the challenge of bolstering a sagging economy while managing strained ties with China.

“Using Abenomics, I will increase jobs and incomes and revitalize the countryside while making citizen’s livelihoods better,” Abe said at the time.

The victory by the LDP, which had ruled Japan for most of the 50 years before it was ousted in 2009, ushered in a government pledged to a tough stance in a territorial row with China, a pro-nuclear energy policy despite the 2011 Fukushima disaster and a potentially risky recipe for hyper-easy monetary policy and big fiscal spending to boost growth known as “Abenomics”.

Abe made his first official visit to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in December 2012 in a bid to show that he was serious about accelerating post-disaster recovery efforts.

In the world’s worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima plant melted down after a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15 000 people.

Abe visited the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in March 2013, after having pledged during his election campaign to rewrite Japan’s constitution to move away from post-war pacifism by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since 1945.

Conservatives saw the 1947 pacifist charter, never once altered, as a liberal social order imposed by the US after Japan’s defeat in World War Two.

In December 2013, Abe visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead, a temple seen as a symbol of Japan’s World War Two militarism.

Fourteen Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured at the shrine along with other war dead. His visit angered China and South Korea and even provoked rare criticism from key ally the United States.

Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping held formal talks in November 2014 for the first time since the two leaders took office, a breakthrough in attempts to end a bitter two-year row over history and territory.

The meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People came after the two countries agreed to work on improving ties and signalled willingness to put their rival claims over disputed islands on the back burner.

But in a breach with normal protocol, Abe was the first to arrive and stood waiting before a stony faced Xi walked in and shook his hand. The national flags of the two countries were not present.

Abe won the 2014 election and brushed aside suggestions that a low turnout tarnished his coalition’s election win.

Many voters, doubtful of both the premier’s “Abenomics” strategy to end deflation and generate growth and the opposition’s ability to do any better, stayed at home.

Abe vowed to stick to his reflationary economic policies, tackle painful structural reforms and pursue his muscular security stance.

Japan’s parliament voted into law a defence policy shift that could let troops fight overseas for the first time since 1945, a milestone in Abe’s push to loosen the limits of the pacifist constitution on the military.

Abe said the shift, the biggest change in Japan’s defence policy since the creation of its post-war military in 1954, was vital to meet new challenges such as from a rising China.

But the legislation triggered massive protests from ordinary citizens and others who said it violates the pacifist constitution and could ensnare Japan in US-led conflicts after 70 years of post-war peace.

US-Japan relations

Japan marked the 71st anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 2016. Abe and Barack Obama, the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, urged world leaders to work towards a world free from nuclear weapons.

US forces had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and another atomic bomb on the southern city of Nagasaki on August  9, 1945, during World War Two. Japan surrendered six days later.

Former US President Donald Trump had fanned worries in Tokyo ahead of his election victory with comments on the possibility of Japan acquiring nuclear arms and demands that allies pay more for keeping US forces on their soil or face their possible withdrawal. Japan’s leadership was nervous about the future of the alliance which had become core to Tokyo’s diplomacy and security.

Abe became the first foreign leader to meet Trump after the November 2016 election and made it a priority to keep the bilateral relationship strong.

Controversies

Abe’s repeated denials that he or his wife had made donations to the head of a Japanese nationalist school at the heart of a political scandal that chipped away at Abe’s support.

Educational group Moritomo Gakuen was at the centre of a controversy over a land deal in which the school bought property for a fraction of the appraisal price. Officials say the discount reflected cleanup costs.
Abe said he would resign if evidence was found that he or his wife had intervened in the land deal.

Abe was jeered at one of his public speeches during the Tokyo assembly election in July 2017 amid a scandal that he allegedly helped a friend’s business to curry favour.

Abe’s troubles centred on concern he may have intervened to help Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) win approval for a veterinary school in a special economic zone. Its director, Kotaro Kake, was a friend of Abe’s.

The government had not granted such an approval in decades due to a perceived glut of veterinarians. Abe and his aides denied doing Kake any favours.

But that did not stop him from being re-elected prime minister in November 2017, after his Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition retained its two-thirds “super majority” .

In September 2018, Abe was re-elected leader of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), putting him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

“We have won five elections in the past to give us the mandate to allow us to provide a stable economic foundation that has allowed everyone to find a decent job and I have been able to return Japan to a strong presence in the foreign policy field.”

UK meeting

Abe met then British Prime Minister Theresa May on Downing Street in January 2019, during a visit focused on developing their partnership in the midst of Brexit chaos.

Japanese firms had spent more than 46 billion pounds ($59 billion) in Britain, encouraged by successive British governments, since Margaret Thatcher promised them a business-friendly base from which to trade across Europe.

During a stop-over in Moscow on the way to Davos, Abe told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he planned to concentrate on a World War Two peace deal that could resolve a decades-old territorial dispute between the two states.

The islands are known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

Abe said on January 23, 2019 in Davos that he would seek to use his chairmanship of the Group of 20 leading economies to rebuild trust in the global trade system.

People close to the premier said Abe was keen to use the summit to boost his poll ratings ahead of an upper house election looming mid-year.

“Defeatism about Japan is now defeated…. Now, later this year in June in Osaka, Japan, we will be hosting this year’s G20 summit. Let us make it a chance to regain optimism for the future.”

Abe shook hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in February 2019 during a two-day visit by the European leader to Tokyo aimed at shoring up support for an “alliance of multilateralists” to resist Trump’s “America First” approach to trade and China’s pursuit of narrow national interests.

Abe sat down for talks with Trump during a trip to Washington D.C. focused heavily on trade ties.

Trump had made clear he is unhappy with Japan’s trade surplus with the United States – much of it from auto exports – and wants a two-way deal to change it. Japan had been resisting US pressure to link trade with currency issues.

Iran visit

Abe’s visit to Iran in June 2019 was the first by a Japanese leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As a US ally that also has good diplomatic relations with Iran, Japan was considered in a unique position to mediate between the Islamic Republic and the United States, amid an escalating confrontation between the two.

China ties

China-Japan ties have long been strained by territorial disputes over a group of tiny East China Sea islets and the legacy of Japan’s World War Two aggression. But Tokyo and Beijing have sought to improve relations, with Abe visiting Beijing when both countries pledged to forge closer ties and signed a broad range of agreements including a currency swap pact.

Leaders of G20 member countries were welcomed to Osaka by Abe on June 28, 2019. A trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, United States and China, overshadowed the summit, with other issues on Iran oil and climate change also topping the agenda.

During the closing session, Abe sought to draw attention towards finding common ground rather than differences in opinion.

Abe conducted a broad cabinet reshuffle and newly appointed members appeared in front of media for family photo on September 11, 2019. Abe told a news conference after the new line-up was launched that constitutional reform, a long-held goal of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was among the difficult challenges facing the cabinet.

“Under the new cabinet launched today, we, as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), will lead a discussion vigourously towards constitutional reform.”

Abe delivered a congratulatory speech and led a trio of cheers of “banzai,” or “long live the Emperor” during the enthronement of new Japanese Emperor Naruhito on October 22, 2019.

Olympics

In March 2020, following a telephone conversation with International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach, Abe announced that both agreed to a one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, as Japan, along with the entire world, was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I got an answer from President Bach that he agreed 100% (with my proposal to postpone the Games). We agreed that we would hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics by the summer of 2021.”

After seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in major population centres, Abe declared a state of emergency which gave authorities more power to press people to stay at home and businesses to close. It was initially imposed in the capital, Tokyo, and six other prefectures, and later expanded nationwide.

“I judged that the nationwide rapid spread (of the coronavirus) would have a major impact on people’s lives and the economy. Based on the revised special measures act for the new (coronavirus), article 32, paragraph 1, I have declared a state of emergency.”

Abe visited a hospital for a medical check-up in August, sparking speculation over the Prime Minister’s health condition. Abe returned to office two days later told journalists that he underwent a medical examination to make sure his health was in good shape and that he was “ready to get back to work”.

 

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