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Shinzo Abe – the Japanese PM who was born to live on election trail and would lose his life there

For Shinzo Abe, a life in politics was destined for him – growing up he watched his maternal grandfather lead Japan as Prime Minister and his father work as a foreign minister.

Abe, 67, became Japan’s most famous politician and longest-serving prime minister, with a tenure marked with headline-grabbing moments, from a turn as Super Mario to enduring a 19-second handshake with former President Donald Trump

Abe, who was shot and killed while delivering a campaign speech on Friday, was pivotal in putting Japan on the world stage – from leading a G20 Summit to hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The former Prime Minister said little about what he thinks his legacy would be, but a key moment of pride for Abe was when Barak Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in 2016.

A conservative and nationalist, he was also known for his closeness to Donald Trump, and his ability to guide and subtly influence the mercurial U.S. president.

Abe became Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister in November 2019, but was forced to step down in 2020 due to the debilitating bowl condition ulcerative colitis. 

Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, has been shot and killed while giving a campaign speech. He is pictured on Friday making a speech moments before he was shot in front of Yamatosaidaiji Station on Friday

US President Donald Trump greets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he arrives for talks at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 17, 2018

US President Donald Trump greets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he arrives for talks at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 17, 2018

Abe and his wife Akie met Queen Elizabeth II during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on May 4, 2016 in London

Abe and his wife Akie met Queen Elizabeth II during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on May 4, 2016 in London

A conservative and nationalist, Abe was known for his closeness to Donald Trump, and his ability to guide and subtly influence the mercurial U.S. president. Pictured: Abe (centre) sits next to Trump and China's President Xi Jinping as they attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019

A conservative and nationalist, Abe was known for his closeness to Donald Trump, and his ability to guide and subtly influence the mercurial U.S. president. Pictured: Abe (centre) sits next to Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping as they attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) laughs with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) before the signing of agreements at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 12, 2015

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) laughs with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) before the signing of agreements at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 12, 2015

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in the Oval Office following a bilateral meeting between the two leaders on February 22, 2013 in Washington, DC

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in the Oval Office following a bilateral meeting between the two leaders on February 22, 2013 in Washington, DC

Abe was also known for ‘Abenomics’, his economic policies designed to drag the country out of a decades-long deflationary slump, and for his support for a strong Japanese military, plus taking a hard line on North Korea.

As a leader of a G7 nation, Abe hosted the gathering of world leaders in 2016, and was seen as a seasoned, wily politician.

Born into a politically-influential family, Abe was first elected prime minister in 2006, and served for a year. He was elected again in December 2012, and dominated the Japanese political scene even after he stepped down almost two years ago due to the inflammatory bowel condition ulcerative colitis. He said his condition had worsened, forcing his resignation.

But he remained extremely influential, described by some analysts as a political kingmaker.

On Friday, Abe was campaigning ahead of elections to the upper house, due to be held on Sunday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who now leads Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, was hoping to gain a firmer grip on the factious party and allow him to emerge from the shadow of Abe, his powerful predecessor, and define his premiership.

During his time in office, Abe made building a close personal relationship with former US president Donald Trump a cornerstone of protecting Japan’s key alliance.

In 2016, he flew to New York to chat with Trump after the US election, becoming the first foreign leader to meet him at his Manhattan skyscraper.

The pair regularly golfed together, and Trump was the first head of state to meet Japan’s new emperor.

But there were plenty of awkward moments.

In 2017, a video went viral of Trump almost wrestling with Abe in a handshake that lasted 19 seconds and ended with the Japanese leader visibly grimacing and appearing relieved the encounter was over.

And then there was their 2018 golf game, when Abe tumbled backwards into a bunker and Trump marched down the fairway seemingly oblivious.

US President Donald Trump (2-L) with US First Lady Melania Trump (L), Shinzo Abe (2-R), Japan's prime minister and Akie Abe (R), wife of Shinzo Abe, speak during a dinner at the Inakaya restaurant in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, Japan, 26 May 2019

US President Donald Trump (2-L) with US First Lady Melania Trump (L), Shinzo Abe (2-R), Japan’s prime minister and Akie Abe (R), wife of Shinzo Abe, speak during a dinner at the Inakaya restaurant in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, Japan, 26 May 2019

Abe with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017

Abe flanked by by Vice President Joseph Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R) gets a standing ovation while speaking to a joint session of the United State Congress on April 29, 2015

Abe is pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on 7 Jul 2017, (left) and with the then Vice President Joseph Biden and House Speaker John Boehner as he gets a standing ovation while speaking to a joint session of the United State Congress on April 29, 2015 in Washington, DC (right)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel deliberates with US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of the official agenda on the second day of the G7 summit on June 9, 2018 in Charlevoix, Canada, as Abe looks on

German Chancellor Angela Merkel deliberates with US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of the official agenda on the second day of the G7 summit on June 9, 2018 in Charlevoix, Canada, as Abe looks on

In 2016, Abe made headlines when he decided to show his commitment to the Olympics in an unusual fashion - by appearing as video game icon Super Mario

In 2016, Abe made headlines when he decided to show his commitment to the Olympics in an unusual fashion – by appearing as video game icon Super Mario

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with U.S. President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 27, 2016

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with U.S. President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 27, 2016

Meanwhile, in 2016, Abe made headlines when he decided to show his commitment to the Olympics in an unusual fashion – by appearing as video game icon Super Mario.

He donned the disguise at the Rio Games for the official handover ceremony to Tokyo, appearing to tunnel through the earth from Japan to Brazil thanks to some digital trickery, before popping up in full costume.

‘I wanted to show Japan’s soft power to the world with the help of Japanese characters,’ he told reporters.

Abe said little about what he thinks his legacy would be, but he cited one particular point of pride: bringing then-US president Barack Obama to Hiroshima in 2016.

Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the site, where he paid tribute to victims of the world’s first atomic attack, though stopping short of offering an apology for the bombing.

Later that year, the two leaders made a poignant joint pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, the first visit by a sitting Japanese leader to the memorial there, issuing symbolic declarations about the power of reconciliation and warning against the drumbeat of conflict.

Abe’s tenure was also marked by less successful moments including his 2013 visit to Yasukuni, a shrine that venerates the souls of Japan’s war dead – including some convicted by a US tribunal of war crimes.

The shrine is seen by many in the region as a symbol of Japan’s militarism during which much of East Asia and Southeast Asia were subjected to brutal offensives and years-long occupations.

Abe’s visit prompted outrage from China and South Korea and even a US rebuke.

He said the trip was not intended to inflame tensions, but he stayed away afterwards, sending only ritual offerings in following years.

Abe himself seemed destined from the start to enter politics.

His family was a politically-influential clan based in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, to the far south of the country.

Abe’s father, Shintaro Abe, served as Japan’s foreign minister from 1982 to 1982. He also served as minister of trade, of agriculture, and Cabinet secretary, and was a serious contender to become prime minister.

Shintaro’s own father, Kan Abe, served in the House of Representatives from 1937 to 1946.

Abe’s maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi helped found the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955 and served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960.

Abe's maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi helped found the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955 and served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Pictured: Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (2nd left) holds hand of his grandson Shinzo Abe (1st L) walking with his wife Ryoko (3rd left), son-in-law and lawmaker Shintaro Abe (1st right), his wife Yoko (2nd right) and son Hironobu on July 7, 1957 in Hakone, Kanagawa, Japan

Abe’s maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi helped found the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955 and served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Pictured: Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (2nd left) holds hand of his grandson Shinzo Abe (1st L) walking with his wife Ryoko (3rd left), son-in-law and lawmaker Shintaro Abe (1st right), his wife Yoko (2nd right) and son Hironobu on July 7, 1957 in Hakone, Kanagawa, Japan

Nobusuke Kishi, Prime Minister of Japan and his wife Ryoko in a Japanese kimono with their grandsons Shinzo Abe and Hironobu Abe (on the lap of his grandfather) in the 1960s

Nobusuke Kishi, Prime Minister of Japan and his wife Ryoko in a Japanese kimono with their grandsons Shinzo Abe and Hironobu Abe (on the lap of his grandfather) in the 1960s 

Abe (centre) visited a shelter for people affected by the recent flooding in Mabi, Okayama prefecture, whilst he was Prime Minister on July 11, 2018

Abe (centre) visited a shelter for people affected by the recent flooding in Mabi, Okayama prefecture, whilst he was Prime Minister on July 11, 2018

Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe (2nd right) celebrates with the delegation as Tokyo is awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic Games during the 125th IOC Session on September 7, 2013

Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe (2nd right) celebrates with the delegation as Tokyo is awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic Games during the 125th IOC Session on September 7, 2013

Abe is pictured here handing the 'yokozuna', or grand champion, Hakuho (left) the prime minister's cup after he finished with a 15-0 victory to win the summer Grand Sumo tournament in Tokyo on May 22, 2016

Abe is pictured here handing the ‘yokozuna’, or grand champion, Hakuho (left) the prime minister’s cup after he finished with a 15-0 victory to win the summer Grand Sumo tournament in Tokyo on May 22, 2016

Abe was elected again in December 2012, and dominated the Japanese political scene even after he stepped down almost two years ago due to the inflammatory bowel condition ulcerative colitis. Pictured: Abe at a Summit in Brunei in October 2013

Abe was elected again in December 2012, and dominated the Japanese political scene even after he stepped down almost two years ago due to the inflammatory bowel condition ulcerative colitis. Pictured: Abe at a Summit in Brunei in October 2013

The younger Abe studied politics and policy in Japan and California, before returning to his homeland to work briefly in the steel industry.

In 1982 he entered politics, first as an assistant to the foreign minister, and then as private secretary to the Liberal Democratic Party’s general council and their secretary-general.

On his father’s death in 1991, Abe decided to run for office, and in 1993 was elected to represent Yamaguchi Prefecture’s first district.

He served as the Japanese government’s chief negotiator on behalf of Japanese abductees seized by North Korea, and in 2002 traveled to meet Kim Jong-il.

In April 2006, he was elected as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In September of that year he was inaugurated as prime minister, at the age of 52 – the youngest person to assume the role since the 1940s.

Abe sought to balance the budget, and set about ushering in a hardline nationalist agenda, with renewed emphasis on the military – something which had been a highly sensitive subject following the Second World War.

Internationally, Abe was critical of North Korea, but worked to strengthen relations with China and India.

His government was unpopular, however, and Abe resigned after a year in the job.

He said at the time that his ulcerative colitis was a factor in his decision.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe arrive for a group photo of the participants of Asia-pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on 7 October 2013

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe arrive for a group photo of the participants of Asia-pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on 7 October 2013

Abe stands beside France's President Emmanuel Macron during an official ceremony at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on June 26, 2019

Abe stands beside France’s President Emmanuel Macron during an official ceremony at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on June 26, 2019

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and wife Akie Abe arrive at Marka international airport on April 30, 2018 in Amman, Jordan. Abe was on a Middle East tour at the time, visiting the UAE, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and wife Akie Abe arrive at Marka international airport on April 30, 2018 in Amman, Jordan. Abe was on a Middle East tour at the time, visiting the UAE, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories

George W. Bush and Laura Bush (l) meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Mrs. Akie Abe (r) at the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC on 26 April 2007

George W. Bush and Laura Bush (l) meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Mrs. Akie Abe (r) at the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC on 26 April 2007

US President George W Bush reaches out to greet Abe at Camp David, Maryland, US, on 27 April 2007

US President George W Bush reaches out to greet Abe at Camp David, Maryland, US, on 27 April 2007

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacts during a budget committee session of the upper house of Japan's parliament in January 30, 2020

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacts during a budget committee session of the upper house of Japan’s parliament in January 30, 2020

ASEAN leaders (L to R) Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in pose for a photo during the 3rd RCEP Summit in Thailand in November 2019

ASEAN leaders (L to R) Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in pose for a photo during the 3rd RCEP Summit in Thailand in November 2019

Abe shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 10, 2014

Abe shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 10, 2014

Abe waves to supporters during his Liberal Democratic Party's election campaign ahead of the July 10 upper house election in Tokyo in July 2016

US First Lady Michelle Obama and Abe shake hands at the start of their meeting at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo, Japan, on 19 March 2015

Abe (pictured right with Michelle Obama in 2015) was also known for ‘Abenomics’, his economic policies designed to drag the country out of a decades-long deflationary slump, and for his support for a strong Japanese military, plus taking a hard line on North Korea.

By 2012 he was back, thanks in part to a new drug, and ran for re-election as prime minister, winning the race in December 2012.

In February 2013, Abe delivered a speech in Washington DC, and declared that he had returned to prevent Japan becoming a ‘Tier Two Nation’, declaring that ‘Japan is back’.

He is remembered for his economic policies, dubbed Abenomics – a set of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies, combined with structural reforms, which were launched in 2013 to pull Japan out of its decades-long deflationary slump.

The policy was based around what Abe termed three arrows: monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural reform for growth.

Domestically, he strongly opposed what he saw as an excessive emphasis on Japan’s wartime crimes.

Internationally, he was highly visible – touring all 10 ASEAN nations in his first year in office.

Abe married Akie Matsuzaki, a socialite and former radio DJ, in 1987.

The pair have no children.


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