top of page

Shinzo Abe Made the World Better

Ichiro Suzuki The day after Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe, 67, was shot dead on July 8, 2022, The Atlantic magazine paid tribute to the slain PM with an article dedicated to him, titled “Shinzo Abe made the world better”. If there was anything good about Abe’s sudden and tragic passing not too far past the apex of his political career, it was lavish recognition of his achievements, outside of Japan. It would have been different had he lived another 33 years. Yasuhiro Nakasone, one of great PMs in Japan’s history, died in 2019 at 101, more than three decades after his last day in office. Obituaries listed Nakasone's accomplishments in the 1980s, essentially as historical facts. Beyond formal condolences from the world’s leaders and dignitaries, the death of Abe has caused outpouring sympathies from around the world. The UN Security Council had a moment of silence to him. The American flag flew half-mast at the White House and at government agency buildings. The New York Stock Exchange projected Abe's image in tribute to him. Australia lit the Japanese flag on Opera House in Sydney. Thousands of Taiwanese citizens wrote messages on a giant board dedicated to Abe. Sheryl Sandberg thanked Abe for his effort on greater rights for Japanese women. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai also thanked him for promoting girls’ education. On top of these, the world’s major newspapers and magazines prodigiously carried obituaries and articles, fully praising Abe’s legacy. One of them was The Atlantic, the liberal magazine now owned by Laurene Powell Jobs. There has never been a Japanese politician who had received such adulation, for leading the world with a vision and diplomatic skills. Not even his grand uncle Eisaku Sato did, though he received Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for his effort in nuclear non-proliferation. Japan has long been criticized for its faceless diplomacy. Abe broke such an infamous tradition, letting his face known, and the world liked him. In Japan, while people made a long, long queue to lay flowers at the site of the shooting, the media’s response to the death was less sympathetic than the public, with curt recognition of Abe's achievements. After years of attacking him while he was in office, they were unwilling to reverse their position to admit his achievements openly, or worse, perhaps genuinely failed to find value in what he did. One TV show reported that there were both sides in his prime ministership. It is true that his years in office were not blameless, especially on the domestic front. There were scandals that were considered as relatively minor but the left-leaning newspapers and TV stations made big deals out of them. They opposed his policies as promoters of Pollyannaish world view with a cherish of the Constitutions’ Article 9 that declares to renounce arms as a means to solve international conflicts. Their world view stands in direct conflict with what Abe saw in the shifting geopolitical environment since the late 20th century. Abe's ultimate goal was amending the Constitution that has never been touched since it was drafted by U.S. occupation forces right after WWII. Years ago, the media ran fierce campaigns against Abe’s proposed bill that allowed the Self Defense Force to defend an ally, essentially the United States, in the event of military actions in Japan’s neighboring area, which assumed Taiwan. Though the proposed bill sought reinterpretation of the Constitution and not an amendment, it met ferocious resistance by the oppositions. The bill went through the Diet eventually, and it sealed the gap between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the left-leaning media. Voters in general were aware of the recent geopolitical environment, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as numerous missile testings by North Korea and Chinese ships’ frequent breach of territory on the East China Sea, have revealed how out-of-touch the Left and the media have been. In 2013, the first year of his second stint as PM, the Specially Designated Secret Act (SDSA) went through the Diet and was enacted after intense debates, for the purpose of protecting the government’s secrets. However, what Abe really wanted was more than the SDSA. He wanted an ‘Anti-Espionage Law’ (AEL) that goes much further than the SDSA for national security purposes. It’s been long said that Japan is spies’ paradise. Japan’s policing of espionage activities by foreign agents is said to have been far too lax compared to other countries. Japan stands on the poler opposite of China’s surveillance state, and this needed to be corrected, up to a point, in the 21st century. As usual, the media campaigned passionately against the SDSA, which they said would intrude deeply into life of people. Though the SDSA went through, the media campaign kept an AEL from coming. Had an AEL been in place, Abe’s fate might have been different on July 8. Looking ahead, there is a chance that such a law would be brought back to the Diet for debate. It is almost public knowledge that China’s espionage activity became a greatly more aggressive since the time the SDSA was debated. On July 10, two days after Abe was shot, voters gave a comfortable majority to the ruling coalition in the House of Councillors (Upper House) election. Amending the Constitution would certainly become an issue, regardless of oppositions from the Left and the media, though probably not in the immediate future. Shinzo Abe’s imagination and leadership continues to live, and he has his place in history. About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.


bottom of page