He re-emerged in Japanese leadership at a time when a revolving door game for the post of head of the government was almost becoming a norm. Japan had seen six prime ministers in little over a six-year period since 2006, including the one of his own earlier tenure. His resurgence, however, changed the set completely as during the course of next eight years he became not only the most enduring leader of the country, but also one of the most successful among all post-World War II Japanese politicians. His sudden death proved this assumption beyond doubt, as people lining up in front of the shrine where funeral was arranged and also along the streets through which the motorcade carrying his coffin passed through had shown love and respect for a leader who led the nation at a difficult time.
Shinzo Abe not only served as Prime Minister of Japan on two different occasions with the gap of more than five years, which itself is a rare fit in post-World War II Japan. His second tenure lasting for seven years and eight months had made him the longest serving head of the government of the country without an interruption. We also know that he could prolong that record further should he had the desire to do so. But he opted for not to do so and instead kept the chance open for others to step in.
A long tenure coupled with a number of worthy achievements at home and abroad also made him the most well-known political figure that Japan has seen since the end of World War II. However, he was also not immune from criticism centered mostly on his policy platform that saw Japan's dwindling influence in global economy as well as in world politics. But those were obvious outcomes of a global trend, not the results of any serious lap in the leadership. Abenomics - the economic policy heralded by Shinzo Abe did not in reality solve the pressing problem of economic stagnation and bridging the ever-widening income gap. At the same time, there is no denying that an easy monetary policy, which was one of the pillars, or arrows as usually being described by the proponents of Abenomics, did help new enterprises emerging at a stagnant time along with Japan's transformation to more of a service-oriented economy from the one based on industrial output.
In global politics Abe differed from his predecessors on a number of crucial issues. Despite strengthening further Japan's security arrangement with country's most trusted ally, the United States, Abe also had given priority to the almost neglected idea of fostering closer ties with the developing world. Japan under Abe administration remained the most trusted partner of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. However, at the same time Abe also carefully nurtured Japan's relationship with the developing world and emphasized importance on nurturing that relationship to a level that would be beneficial to both.
Critics often site the example of Japan's desire of countering China as the prime motive behind such foreign policy initiative, a reality that we hardly can deny. However, Abe did not want to see Japan's traditional allies in South-East Asia in particular are overtaken by an emerging China entering the arena with a fat coffer. He wanted to bring East and Southeast Asia along with countries of the eastern belt of the Pacific rim to a common platform under a free trade agreement in the form of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here his desire did not see a tangible result due to strong opposition of Donald Trump, but subsequently became a reality in a different form with the signing of RCEP free trade arrangement.
And in the matter of security arrangements of the region, we see Abe coming forward with the unique idea of ensuring maritime safety based on rule of law throughout a vast region that he termed Indo-Pacific. Here too the motive that prompted Abe to discard the old concept of Asia-Pacific and replacing it with a broader understanding of Indo-Pacific was China's aggressive move along East and South China sea. Japan has an ongoing territorial dispute with China over what the Japanese call Senkaku Islands in East China Sea. Policy makers in Tokyo believe that a greater regional cooperation including countries of Indian Ocean proximity, particularly India, would act as a useful deterrent to whatever ambition China might have.
This, however did not block Abe to forge an understanding with China itself, the largest trading partner of Japan. He also patronized a closer understanding with Russia, Japan's northern neighbor with a territorial dispute. By doing so, Abe wanted to find a way out for signing a peace treaty heralding an end to post-war hostility and thus breaking the existing impasse and solving the long-standing issue over the sovereignty of four Russian held islands off the eastern coast of Hokkaido. He met Russian President Valdimir Putin 17 times during his tenure and though success remained elusive, however, a better understanding paved the way for Japan to concentrate more on other pressing issues, including the Senkaku dispute.
And as for Abe's friendly gesture towards the developing world, he visited African and Latin American countries more frequently than any other Japanese leader in the past. A group of analysts in Japan say Abe was a globe-trotter in true sense. He visited 176 countries and many of such visits had taken him to the remote corners of Asia and Africa where he relentlessly tried to promote another idea that too critics see as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in those regions. His call for adopting to quality infrastructure projects could not make a big headway because of the expensive nature of such projects. However, countries opting for such idea with Japanese financial assistance benefitted much in the long run. Bangladesh too is joining that group with the sought-after Metro Rail Project that is scheduled to be operational by the end of the year. This is why many developing nations around the world mourned Abe death as a loss of a true friend who cared for them. And for that simple reason I would like to conclude this obituary with a personal note that would probably help our readership to grasp the depth of Abe's understanding of the plight of the people struggling hard to overcome the difficult phase in their development process.
It was six years ago that we saw your grim face in the media after you were informed of the brutal murder of Japanese nationals in Bangladesh who were sent to the country to help building much needed infrastructures. However, the shock did not push you to an extreme to order the closure of Japanese-financed projects or stop helping the country in other ways. You could easily do that and people would have taken that as a natural reaction for the brutality incurred on fellow citizens. But like a true leader and a real visionary, you did not opt for anything of that sort. On the contrary, under your leadership Bangladesh received more development assistance along with the sympathy for also becoming a victim of extremism of unparallel height. This is why we too mourn your death and join fellow Japanese in remembering you as a true friend. Hence, the legacy that you've left behind will guide us to steer forward with the equal determination that you had shown in the aftermath of that tragic incident. This, in our eyes, makes you a leader and fellow citizen of the world who did not forget the plight of those in remote parts of the world who are still suffering from hunger, malnutrition and mal-treatment. We solemnly bow and mourn your unexpected departure and hope that the world where nobody will be left out for nor being born in a privileged status that you dreamed about, will become a reality with the passage of time.
(Tokyo, July 13, 2022)
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