Shinzo Abe: A Legendary Geopolitical Strategist Who Transformed Japan

News18, 09.07.2022
Sanbeer Singh Ranhotra
For Shinzo Abe, the Indo-Pacific was a region that could not be lost to China under any circumstances

Padma Vibhushan Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan was assassinated on Friday. For India, Shinzo Abe’s assassination hurts like a personal loss. For Indians who knew of Shinzo Abe’s stature and his role in the wider Indo-Pacific, news of him no longer being around is just as saddening as it is shocking. For Japan’s tallest leader to be shot in broad daylight using what appears to be a homemade shotgun is an intelligence and security failure of unprecedented proportions. Japan is among the safest countries in the world. A former Prime Minister to be shot at, therefore, is simply unnatural and absurd.


Shinzo Abe and the Indo-Pacific

Shinzo Abe has been a guiding light for the Indo-Pacific. He was perhaps the first global leader to stand up to China and call upon democracies to converge in the Indian and Pacific Oceans to preserve freedoms that Beijing was beginning to view as a hindrance to its own devious plans for the region. In 2007, Shinzo Abe addressed the Indian Parliament, in what became a historic speech that would shape India’s strategic outlook in the Indo-Pacific for decades to come.

The speech, titled “Confluence of the Two Seas”, called on India to “think big”. It was upon his insistence that India realised how it could block the Malacca Strait and choke the life out of China in the event of a conflict. Shinzo Abe told New Delhi in no uncertain terms that India’s “geopolitical footprint” should not be confined in the Indian Ocean alone. Under Abe’s leadership, India’s ties with Japan flourished like never before, with Tokyo pledging billions of dollars in investments, especially in the Northeast.

Do you know why the phrase “Asia Pacific” has nearly gone extinct, and is used by China and its proxies alone? Shinzo Abe was the man who popularised the term “Indo Pacific” instead. He recognised India’s importance and the critical role that New Delhi could play to counter growing Chinese influence in the region. In 2016, Shinzo Abe unveiled the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”, which is now a concept that is viewed as sacrosanct by nearly all democracies of the world.

For Shinzo Abe, the Indo-Pacific was a region that could not be lost to China under any circumstances. The man is referred to as the “father of Quad”; not without reason. It was Abe who formalised the quadrilateral partnership between India, Japan, the United States and Australia in the aftermath of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Within three years, Quad was formalised into an alliance of sorts but fell silent after Barack Obama’s rise to power in the United States.


Shinzo Abe and the Transformation of Japan

Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister transformed Japan as we know it. Following the devastation caused to Japan after World War II, the country accepted non-violence, neutrality and US-imposed pacifism as a constitutional mandate that needed to be adhered to, come what may. Japan’s security policies were purely defensive in nature, to the extent that the Japanese military came to be known as the “self-defense forces”.

Shinzo Abe began reforming Japan’s strategic outlook and preparedness to deal with threats by strengthening his own office. The Japanese Prime Minister’s office was given a national security council, while the bureaucracy was rejigged to ensure a synchronised and cohesive security policy. Shinzo’s “Abenomics” has earned a name for itself around the world. The man dragged Japan out of an economic plateau by using a mix of structural reforms, monetary easing and fiscal stimulus. The economy was not alone in being reformed by Abe. The country’s intelligence institutions saw radical changes being brought about as well, with the most important being Japan rolling out an Official Secrets Act of sorts, to curb the outflow of critical intelligence and intellectual property to adversarial countries like China.

The criminalisation of espionage by Abe set the precedent for Japan to act against Chinese student spies, which had become a menace to the country. Shinzo Abe’s policies were replicated by his immediate successor, Yoshihide Suga, who tightened the screws on Chinese spies stealing Japan’s intellectual property and military secrets.

Under Shinzo Abe, talk of Japan giving up its constitutional obligation to not wage war on any country and constantly maintaining a defensive posture alone were normalised. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution was diluted by Abe as he allowed the deployment of Japanese troops overseas in support of the country’s allies. This was a historic move, and marked Japan’s departure from its long-held pacifist approach.

Abe also oversaw the making of Japan’s first aircraft carrier since World War II. Soon after coming to power in 2012, Shinzo Abe approved a rise in defence spending for the first time in over a decade – primarily to better defend the Senkaku Islands, an area which China claims as its own and calls Diaoyu. To strengthen Japan’s hold over the Okinawa Prefecture and the East China Sea, Shinzo Abe also oversaw the creation of a special coastguard unit with several patrol boats, two helicopter carriers and a 600-strong force. In 2017, Abe gave the go-ahead to expand Japan’s ballistic missile defense capabilities, as his cabinet approved the procurement of two land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense systems.

In March this year, Abe floated the idea of Japan hosting American nukes. That was an unprecedented call, which tells you a lot about how Shinzo Abe envisioned Japan moving forward. However, it did not come as a surprise to those who have watched Japan’s policy mature over the past decade. Shinzo Abe turned into one of the most vociferous friends of Taiwan, going to the extent of saying Japan’s security was intrinsically linked to the freedom and safety of Taiwan. This line found many takers within Japan in recent times, and it became clear that Japan would not spectate mutely if China went ahead with an invasion of Taiwan.

Shinzo Abe has been a geopolitical strategist par excellence. He’s undoubtedly the man who harked Japan back to reality, out of its utopic and unrealistic Lalaland. On the world stage, Abe will always remain a legend who shaped the democratic world’s Indo-Pacific policy, making China’s life miserable.

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