‘The Importance of Shinzo Abe’ is a tribute to the architect of Indo-Pacific strategy
SHINZO ABE, Prime Minister of Japan from 2006-07 and 2012-2020, was assassinated in July last year in the western Japanese city of Nara while giving a campaign speech for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. This was a stunning development in a country known for its very strict rules on the possession of guns. He was the son of a former Foreign Minister, Shintaro Abe, and grandson of a former Prime Minister, Nobusuke Kishi, who had been the first Japanese PM to visit India. Shinzo Abe, 67, was one of the most consequential prime ministers of post-war Japan.
His record-setting term brought political stability to Japan, which had seen a quick succession of prime ministers earlier. It also pushed the country to play a greater role in regional and global politics and a more active part in its own defence issues.
Sanjaya Baru has done signal service in bringing together experts from India and Japan to discuss Shinzo Abe’s path-breaking contribution to global geopolitics and architecting the important Indo-Japan relations within the ambit of the concept of Indo-Pacific.
The writers provide us with an in-depth look at Abe’s contributions. Many of the Japanese contributors to this volume have played a role in formulating and executing Abe’s ideas and policies.
The essays make it clear that Abe deserves unreserved credit for sensing the need for an Indo-Pacific push-back of China at a time when countries like the US and even India were seeking to enhance their relations with Beijing.
Shinzo Abe was political royalty in the country. He was the longest serving prime minister in Japanese history. Not so well known is the fact that he is the real architect of what is today called the Indo-Pacific strategy.
As Prof Tomohiko Taniguchi and other notable Japanese contributors indicate, Abe’s work needs to be seen in the larger context of what he did not only for Asian geopolitics, but Japan itself. Taniguchi notes that his principal contribution was to ensure that Japan did not slip into the category of tier-2 states. His efforts at turning around Japanese economics and its foreign and security policies have ensured that Tokyo remains one of the major players in global geopolitics. Abenomics may not have been entirely successful, but it did provide Japan with a second wind. Some of these are detailed by Heizo Takenaka.
Yuka Koshino notes that Abe’s foreign policy was driven by his concerns about Japan’s eroding international presence. This had to do with Japan’s internal political turmoil as well as the rise of China. An important aspect of this was creating institutions like the National Security Council and issuing the first National Security Strategy of Japan in 2013 to integrate the country’s military and intelligence policies with its goals.
Using the experience of the India-US-Australia-Japan collaboration to provide humanitarian assistance and relief to those affected by the January 2004 tsunami, Abe proposed the creation of a Quadrilateral grouping or Quad in 2006. However, Beijing’s objections to the idea, Abe’s departure from office in 2007 and Kevin Rudd’s appointment as Prime Minister in Australia and its formal withdrawal from the Quad, led to its collapse. At this point, in 2008, India also signalled that it was not too enthusiastic about the grouping. On the eve of his first visit to China in 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India was not part of any “so-called contain-China” effort.
The development of the strategic concept of the Indo-Pacific came from Abe’s speech to the Indian Parliament in 2007 on the ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’. In 2016, the Abe government developed what it called a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. In 2017, at the APEC summit in Hanoi, US President Trump declared a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as the focus of US policy.
In his essay, Sanjaya Baru points out the role Abe played in the evolution of Japanese policy towards India. There is little doubt that the momentum he imparted to it has stood us in good stead. The relationship between the two countries “has acquired a clear strategic dimension”.
This is underscored by Takenori Horimoto, a senior Japanese academic, who says that perhaps in terms of his foreign policy, the “improvement of Japan-India relations could be called Abe’s greatest contribution”.
This assessment chimes well with that of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who, in the Foreword, describes Abe as a powerful inspiration to India and the global community on the new ways of cooperation and that there is little doubt that he was “a prophet before his time”.