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Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on 28 June 2019. (Photo:Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

Author: Upamanyu Basu, NUJS

The death of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is a shocking loss for Japan. But Japanese democracy has remained strong, with voters turning up for the Upper House election to give the Kishida government an anticipated victory. Abe’s move to deviate from Japan’s pacifist policies to confront China’s nationalistic designs remains a strong legacy for the Kishida government to conserve.

For the first time in Japanese history, Abe committed to centralising decision making on security matters. This move aimed to ensure that Japan’s security policy aligned with the national interest. There were two identified security threats — China’s regional military tactics and North Korea’s nuclear missile testing. Abe ensured increases in defence spending and upgraded defence policy, resulting in the acquisition of new weapons and effectively changing Japan’s historical foreign policy and maritime positioning.

Abe inherited a difficult political climate when he came to power. Relations with China had deteriorated due to territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. In his first years, Abe visited every ASEAN country and used the 2014 Shangri La Dialogue to establish a new maritime order — becoming the ‘father of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue‘. His infamous visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in which Japan’s war criminals are entombed was a huge blow to his already tumultuous relations with China.

Abe’s China policy was more pragmatic than adventurous, especially in the post-2012 period. The multilayered diplomacy of investing significant resources in Southeast Asia and South Asia, including the Japan–European Union Economic Partnership Agreement, exemplified Abe’s calculated, proactive participation and leadership. Japan’s foreign policy towards the Mekong Region, though overshadowed by China’s presence, posed an alternative to China’s development strategy. The 2018 New Tokyo …continue reading