Shinzo Abe repositioned Japan in the world order
Abe will be remembered for framing the Indo-Pacific narrative. He designed the Free and Open Indo-Pacific based on a liberal order of common values
The assassination of Shinzo Abe has shaken the world because post World War II, Japan stood as symbol of peace. Abe first came to power in 2006 as the youngest prime minister (PM) of Japan from the Liberal Democratic platform, but it was short-lived due to his ill health. He returned to power in 2012 and became the longest-serving PM before stepping down in 2020. When he assumed power, Japan was struggling from stagflation and the triple disaster of an earthquake, tsunami, and a nuclear plant meltdown a year before. China was rising and North Korea had taken a belligerent approach in its nuclear agenda.
Abe will be remembered for framing the Indo-Pacific narrative. He designed the concept of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) based on a liberal order of common values and rules-based order, as Japan’s grand strategy. It was perceived to keep the sea lanes secured for navigation to enable the free flow of goods and services, encourage multilateral engagements, and ensure the rule of law. In so doing, he sought to address the complex balance of power in East Asia and satisfy the United States (US) as a member of the alliance system.
Quad was also his brainchild. His now-famous speech in Parliament in 2007 set in motion the agenda for bringing these nations together on a common platform to help securitise and keep the Indo-Pacific free and open to the global commons. Unfortunately, the initiative temporarily failed as Australia and India dithered for domestic reasons. In spite of China’s protest, in his second tenure, he proposed the idea of “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”. He envisioned that strong maritime democracies would provide an alternative to countries of this region and counter China. Helped by changing geopolitics, and his persistence, Quad re-emerged in 2017.
Abe made his presence felt through his charm and astute decisions in multilateral outings, including the successful shepherding of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to completion. Anchoring on India, in his first outing, Abe elevated India-Japan relations to a Strategic and Global Partnership, in the process reframing the Asian landscape. The relationship set sail by addressing both strategic concerns and economic partnership. As India stepped up its modernisation plan, it looked toward integrating with Asia through the Act East policy. Abe committed to assisting India through capital investment, advancing technologies, and infrastructure development.
The first sign of investment was the signing of the Civil Nuclear Deal in 2015. Japan, as a country that faced a nuclear holocaust, has a strong aversion to nations that were not signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, realising India’s need for nuclear energy, Abe pushed it through the National Diet and shored up public opinion to ink the deal.
Under the aegis of PM Narendra Modi, India’s determination to gain a leadership role proved advantageous for Abe as India and Japan committed themselves to maritime security cooperation. Further, expansions in maritime domain awareness and the signing of the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement, allowing for reciprocal provision of supplies and services between the Self-Defense Forces of Japan and the Indian armed forces, strengthened cooperation in peace and security.
Abe also plugged Japan’s cooperation with India on the economic front with assistance in schemes such as Make in India and Skill India. Ambitious plans for multiple connectivity corridors such as the Delhi-Mumbai Corridor are supported through Japan’s Overseas Development Assistance. The India- Japan Indo-Pacific Vision 2025 has emphasised connectivity and brought Northeast into Japan’s purview. Abe identified this region as a way to link India to Southeast Asia. Expanding connectivity will promote FOIP by bridging gaps in regional integration.
Abe’s visionary leadership repositioned Japan in the world order. His concept of FOIP strengthened, deepened and bolstered the India-Japan relationship. Moreover, his personal equation with PM Modi provided a vitality to this relationship. Abe’s legacy will not go to waste as India witnessed Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s firm commitment to this relationship in his maiden visit to India in March 2022.
Srabani Roy Choudhury is professor, Japan Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed are personal