TLDRUPFront: A quick backgrounder on former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was assassinated on a campaign stop in Japan Friday.
Killed at a political rally by a former Japanese SDF member.
FullContextInTheBack: At about noon local time Friday in Japan the former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was shot twice by what authorities are calling a home-made shotgun by a 41-year-old former member of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces (SDF). Abe is currently at a hospital with no vital signs and has been announced to have had cardiac arrest, which is a normal Japanese approach prior to announcing the death.
Even though he’s no longer Prime Minister, Abe has a tremendous influence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Power (LDP) which itself has had tremendous influence over Japan for decades, especially in the last 12 years. Abe became leader of the LDP in 2005, and Prime Minister for a brief stint in 2006-2007 before he had to resign due to health reasons. His resignation marked a brief period in the opposition for LDP, and then returned to power when Abe himself recovered, ran again, and was elected as Prime Minister. A role he held from 20012-2020. The current Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida served as Abe’s Foreign Minister for years, and the Prime Minister before that, Yoshihide Suga was Cabinet Secretary of the LDP while Abe served as Prime Minister.
This dynastic continuity of succession is important because, despite the name, the LDP is Japan’s “big tent” conservative party and represents a more nationalist wing of Japanese politics. Abe specifically is a member of Nippon Kaigi, a non-government advocacy group that is sort of like a Japanese fusion of the Birch Society mixed with neo-conservativism. Abe himself has downplayed Japanese atrocities in WWII while Nippon Kaigi unapologetically pushes for the restoration of Japanese ‘glory.’
With LDP majorities behind him as Prime Minister Abe’s, two signature policies were ‘Abenomics’ which mixed quantitative easing and fiscal stimulus in a largely ineffective effort to revitalize Japan’s economy. The second was seeking to remilitarize Japan – a trend that has continued through his two handpicked successors.
This effort resulted in the successful adjustment of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. The Constitution and Article 9 were implemented during US military occupation in 1947 and is the key provision that prohibits Japan from having a standing military or waging war abroad. The “reinterpretation” was done not by amending the Constitution, but adopting laws that ‘interpreted’ it as allowing Japan to have a more robust defense force and materially support allies abroad in military conflicts. Since then spending on the SDF has increased dramatically. Japan’s rearmament has coincided with increasing tensions with China over both the disputed territories of the South Chinese Sea and Taiwan. Just last year, Japan signed a defensive pact with Australia aimed at China. This year in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia Japan signaled an openness to hosting US nuclear weapons on its bases on the island.
The motivation of the assassin is unclear so far other than that he was “dissatisfied” with Abe. This could’ve been for Abenomics or something to do with remilitarization given his prior SDF membership. The shotgun was homemade, and the campaign stop where Abe was shot was only announced the night before. It gives the feeling of an opportunistic act, rather than a carefully planned one.
However, that the assassin is a former member of the SDF raised my eyebrows. Japan has a troubled history of military involvement in assassinations of both public officials and military officers during the early Showa period. The domestic tension at the time was between the ultra-nationalist pro-militarization faction of Imperial Way and more moderate forces within Japan’s government. A string of assassinations, coups, and attempted coups during the 1920s and 30s resulted in the more militant forces gaining power and the rest is history. It’s not a leap to look at Nippon Kaigi today and see Imperial Way and likewise, the debate over Japanese nationalism and military standing is similar, though the volume on this dial has been turned down to 1 from 11. Of course, that was ~90 years ago and we’re still within the razor rules period; the assassin may have just wanted Jodie Foster to swipe right on him. We’ll see.