The long shadow of Abe’s political legacy

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan June 18, 2020. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

TOKYO – Shinzo Abe is Japan’s longest -serving prime minister but his influence extends beyond his longevity, with his policy priorities likely to cast a long shadow over his successors.

Here are some of the key political legacies of the assassinated former leader:

Abenomics

Abe began his second term in power in 2012 by launching the economic stimulus strategy that bore his name.

It pushed monetary easing to stimulate inflation, massive government spending, and structural reforms, particularly in lifelong employment.

A decade later, the Bank of Japan remains stable even as other central banks tighten, although it faces increasing pressure as prices rise and the yen weakens.

The government also spent heavily on pandemic stimulus, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged businesses to raise wages.

Although Abenomics is often praised, the results are uneven, with inflation proving elusive and unchanging wages.

Share prices have risen, but so has the income gap, and Kishida has promised a “new capitalism” to address the inequality, albeit with few details.

“I think Abenomics is still alive in the sense that that’s how the (leading) Liberal Democratic Party is in economics,” said Paul Nadeau, adjunct professor of political science at Temple University’s Japan campus.

Interaction with the world

Abe made foreign policy a priority, increasing personal ties with international leaders.

“He brought Japan back on the world stage and it really drove him,” Nancy Snow, an international relations expert and former Abe fellow, told AFP.

“He recorded and said, we’re not going to be a tier-two country.”

Abe famously acted quickly to ensure close ties with then -US president Donald Trump, who became the first foreign leader to visit him after the election.

The charm offensive seems to have borne fruit, with Japan avoiding increasing fees for hosting U.S. troops and fearing tariffs on vehicles.

Abe also led Japan to an important trade agreement in the region and strengthened ties with India, helping to revive Quad grouping seen as an increasingly important counterweight to China.

Defense, constitutional revision

Abe made no secret of his desire to reshape Japan’s defense policy, including constitutional reform after the war to recognize the country’s armed forces.

“He wants to strengthen the military and that’s not just because of China,” Snow said.

“That also has to do with how he measured power in international relations: the tier-one countries are the ones with strong military.”

His government reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to help an ally, but he failed to garner support for article nine reform – in which Japan renounced the war and vowed not to maintain a “war potential. “.

The issue remains on the table however, with Kishida promising new discussions this year, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Chinese saber-rattling in Taiwan have sharpened local opinion on defense needs.

“Kishida is a pretty neutral character, he’s definitely not a hawk,” Nadeau said.

“So I think when he’s talking about increasing defense spending and maybe changing the constitution… the public is more reassured that he’s not going too far.”

Scandals

Abe stepped down for health reasons in 2020, but his tenure was not without scandals.

These include controversy over his visit to the Yasukuni shrine in 2013 – which worships Japan’s war dead, including some convicted of war crimes – and revisionist views on the country’s wartime actions.

His positions on a range of policies were not always popular, and he faced large public demonstrations of the kind rarely seen in Japan.

He was also involved in a series of cronyism scandals, including about the cut-price in 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist school operator in connection with Abe’s wife.

“For me personally, that cronyism, friends first, that was one of Abe’s biggest failures,” Nadeau told AFP. “That’s also part of his legacy.”

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