Shinzo Abe has remade Japan and the world, says BU expert | UB today

Japan, with a population of 125 million, recorded just one gun death last year, and a total of just 14 since 2017. The country has some of the toughest gun laws. stringent in the world. The near absence of lethal shootings made the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week not only tragic, but aberrant, prompting BU Japan researcher William Grimes cry Japan’s “Lost Innocence”.

Abe was shot on July 8 while campaigning for a parliamentary candidate. Japan’s longest-serving prime minister served two terms, the last from 2012 to 2020. Police arrested 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami and said he confessed to the murder; he allegedly believed rumors of Abe’s ties to a group that police have not identified.

Grimes, a professor of international relations and political science at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, studies Japanese politics and political economy and has served as a visiting scholar at the country’s Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Japan, and international institutions. universities in Japan and Australia. The author of numerous books and articles on Japan and East Asia, Grimes says Abe changed the trajectory of politics in his country — and the world. It analyzes the legacy of the late Prime Minister and the implications of his murder for Japan.

Q&A

With William Grimes

UB today: Why was Abe so important as prime minister and how would you rank him among Japanese leaders?

William Grimes: Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, which was particularly impressive after a string of one-year terms, including his first term in 2006-07. This longevity alone has allowed him to have an outsized impact on politics, especially in structural and microeconomic policies, which tend to change incrementally. Combined with the five years that one of his mentors, Junichiro Koizumi, served as prime minister, Japan really is very different today than it was 20 years ago. The Koizumi-Abe approach can be seen as prioritizing markets and efficiency over long-term relationships between business, workers, banks and government. Abe differed from Koizumi in his willingness to use fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate demand – “Abenomics” – as well as structural reforms to increase the reach of markets.

The most significant direct impact of Abenomics was felt through monetary policy, which accelerated growth and raised asset prices. It has also created a more sustainable fiscal trajectory. And the accumulation of microeconomic policies – support for women’s work, financial sector reforms, tax reform, agricultural reform and support for new economic enterprises – will have a lasting impact on the structure and productivity of the Japanese economy.

In foreign economic policy, he pushed forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and then, after President Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP, he carried out the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the largest and most ambitious business. agreements around the world. On security issues, he helped secure a redefinition of what the Japan Self-Defense Forces are allowed to do to support allies, and was a founding member of the “Quad” – Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – between Japan , the United States, Australia and India [to balance China’s growing power]. He was transformative in a way that probably no Japanese prime minister has been since the early 1950s.

In contrast, it has strengthened the hand of historical revisionists who deny that Japan was an aggressor during World War II or that it forcibly recruited “comfort women”. [sexually enslaved women for the Japanese army]. This hurt relations with South Korea and China, and also made xenophobia and anti-Korean sentiment more palatable in Japan. His longstanding intransigence on North Korean abduction issues also hurt efforts to contain North Korea’s nuclear program in the early 2000s.

UB today: What drove Abe to remain prominent after leaving office two years ago?

William Grimes: Japan has a parliamentary system, so Abe remained a member of parliament after stepping down as prime minister. He was in a safe neighborhood, which he, and before that his father, had represented for over 60 years. His political lineage was extraordinary – think of the Kennedy family, without the charisma. He was the maternal grandson of one of the most important post-war prime ministers, the great-nephew of one of his longest-serving prime ministers, who was the only Japanese to win the Nobel Prize. of Peace, and the son of a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. His brother is currently Minister of Defence. Either his son or his nephew will likely take over his seat. It is important to note that this is, however, a loaded story; his grandfather, who was an architect of Japan’s wartime economic mobilization, was arrested but never tried as a war criminal after World War II and remained affiliated with the Japanese right wing throughout throughout his career.

Abe was the only person capable of keeping the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) going for a long time. He did this through a combination of mastery of domestic politics and external popularity. He was unique in recent decades in being both the leader of the largest internal faction and the most popular politician among voters. These advantages remained even after his resignation as prime minister, after which he became a kingmaker and leader of public opinion. The PLD can do without him, because there is a fairly stable organization and there is currently no electoral threat. But it will have less clear policy direction, particularly in domestic economic policy.

Abe’s post-prime minister career has focused on supporting hawkish politicians, championing a more proactive security posture, supporting the global liberal economic order, and strengthening US-Japan relations.

UB today: Is the triumph of Abe’s party in the legislative elections two days after his death a sign of his post-mortem popularity and likely to achieve his goal of making Japan a military power? Would that be a good thing?

William Grimes: The LDP victory was roughly in line with what had been expected before Abe’s murder. The reasons are the perceived competence of the PLD and the Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida on the one hand and the fragmentation and proven incompetence of the opposition parties on the other.

The evolution of the Japanese approach to security does not depend on Abe. The fundamental basis of Japanese security policy since the end of the American occupation in 1952 has been to rely on the United States to deter attacks, first from the USSR, then from North Korean missiles, and now from China. There has been a long-term shift towards more muscular capabilities and a more proactive approach to the use of force, but the principle of “purely defensive defense” is still strong in Japan. The key point here is that all of Japan’s defense capability and strategy relies on integration with US forces.

If we will see Japan becoming a military power – first, Japan is already a military power; it has one of the world’s most capable navies, highly capable air forces and missile defenses, and has extended its international cooperation to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Second, Japanese forces are not configured for offensive activities – there are no bombers or cruise missiles in its arsenal, it has no expeditionary forces, and only has carrier capability. very fledgling aircraft. Third, Japan functions as a military power only in cooperation with the United States.

UB today: Do you expect this murder to be an aberration, or did the political violence we’ve seen elsewhere, including in the United States on January 6, 2021, infect Japan in ways we can’t? not anticipate?

William Grimes: It is reported that the killer was angry because his mother had been involved with a religious sect, apparently the Unification Church, and had given him much of the family money. The LDP has developed deep but somewhat hidden relationships with a number of religions that can be considered sects or simply fringe sects, including the Unification Church. The killer identified Abe personally with the Church. Exactly why Abe in particular was the target is a bit murky, but there is video of him saluting a non-profit branch of the church. Additionally, his grandfather Kishi played a key role in introducing the band to Japan in the 1960s, due to his vocal anti-communist stance. There may be other reasons the killer associated Abe so closely with him that will become known over time. I am convinced that he was not part of an organized group. For one thing, his homemade weapon suggests he was working alone.

UB today: What will be the reaction in Japan to this, both politically and culturally?

William Grimes: People are shocked. The Sankei Shimbun [newspaper] compiled a list of every attack on a politician, and there have only been three deaths since 1960, only one of which was killed by a gun. Japanese politicians, even prime ministers, have minimal security, and it’s okay to do what Abe was doing: stand in front of a train station with onlookers within about 20 feet. I don’t think that will change too much, except maybe for cabinet members or where there is a specific known threat, as the killer in this case appears to be a lone wolf. However, if there were more such incidents, it could increase the distance between politicians and voters, which would be very unfortunate.

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