Stunned and outraged, but Abe’s vision of Indo-Pacific will endure: Biden
Shinzo Abe, both in his short tenure as Japan’s PM in 2006-07 and then his eight-year long stint between 2012 and 2020, was the primary architect of the idea of Indo-Pacific as a common geopolitical space
WASHINGTON: Saying that he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened” by the assassination of Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, US President Joe Biden has said that Abe’s vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” will endure.
In a statement on Friday, Biden said that Abe’s assassination was a “tragedy for Japan and all who knew him”. Recalling his association with the late Japanese leader and their meetings in Tokyo and Washington DC, Biden said, “He was a champion of the Alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people. The longest serving Japanese Prime Minister, his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure.”
In a subsequent presidential proclamation, Biden declared that the US flag will fly at half-staff at the White House, US government and military facilities, and all US embassies and missions abroad till the sunset of July 10 in Abe’s memory. He also visited the Japanese embassy in Washington DC to convey his condolences, where he wrote that Abe was a “man of peace and judgement” who will be missed, and whose death was a loss to the entire world.
Abe, both in his short tenure as Japan’s PM in 2006-07 and then his eight-year long stint between 2012 and 2020, was the primary architect of the idea of Indo-Pacific as a common geopolitical space. He was among the first Asian leaders to recognise the shift in China’s foreign policy from a period where Beijing emphasised the peaceful nature of its rise to its increased belligerence across the region.
This increasingly manifested itself in China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, its rhetoric on Taiwan, its military assertion vis a vis Japan over contested islands, and in recent years, Beijing’s unilateral aggression against India.
As China’s actions bred insecurity, Abe’s proposal gained traction in both Washington and Asian capitals. The geopolitical vocabulary shifted from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific, Quad got institutionalised, military exercises between Quad member countries increased, and bilateral ties between India and the other three Quad members who are treaty allies - Japan, US, Australia - deepened.
Domestically, Abe worked to shift Japan’s traditionally pacifist posture towards embracing its own hard security responsibilities in the new context in Indo-Pacific. Externally, Abe used Japan’s ties with US and his own ability to navigate Washington’s changing politics - he was among the rare allies who managed to establish a good working relationship with Donald Trump - to help nudge a shift in US thinking on the region. The focus on the Indo-Pacific is one of the few areas of policy continuities between the Trump and the Biden administration.
Biden said that Abe - who was campaigning when he was shot - was engaged in the work of democracy even at the moment he was attacked. The US president, dealing with a surge in gun violence in his country, added, “While there are many details that we do not yet know, we know that violent attacks are never acceptable and that gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities that are affected by it.”
In Bali, on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial, secretary of state Antony J Blinken conveyed the US’s condolences to Japan’s foreign minister, Hayashi Yoshimasa, and said Abe’s assassination was “shocking…profoundly disturbing..and such a strong personal loss for so many people”.
The secretary of state said that for the US, Abe was “extraordinary partner”, who, besides being a great leader for Japan, was a “global leader” who brought the relationship closer. “…a leader with great vision for what a free and open Indo-Pacific region could look like, and also incredible ability to really work toward realising that vision”.