Japan’s “JFK” moment: Shinzo Abe assassinated

Shinzo Abe Assassinated: Japan’s “JFK” Moment | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here. And I'm very sad to be talking about this shocking tragedy in one of the world's most stable democracies, the assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Gun violence in a country that experiences virtually none of it. The assassination of the country's longest serving prime minister. It is a JFK moment for Japan, maybe even bigger.


I've known Prime Minister Abe for well over a decade. And I will tell you, he is unusually charismatic for a Japanese leader. Open and friendly and put his hand on your shoulder, on your back when he talks to you. I mean, frankly, almost Clintonian in that regard in a Japanese context. And also willing to push ideas in ways that other leaders have not been. Without question, one of the most popular leaders I've ever encountered from Japan. Known for all sorts of things. Abenomics everyone talked about coming from this old Japanese proverb that when one arrow would be broken, three arrows wouldn't fail. So the three arrows of Abenomics, the monetary easing where the yen fell massively, fiscal stimulus and then growth strategy where you focus on private investment and personal consumption in a country that was having its demographics shrink. Not an easy thing to do.

Abe was particularly proud of pushing for women in positions of power alongside his Abenomics, what he called Womenomics. And it's kind of critical. In a place where you'd go to business meetings and the only women you'd see all week were the ones that were serving you tea, Japan desperately needed to push to bring women into positions of respect and authority. And Prime Minister Abe was really the first PM that I encountered that was willing to do something about that. You also saw it in his personal life with an outspoken wife, Akie, who was very much involved in politics. I remember when Abe was pushing for nuclear power in Japan and it was deeply unpopular in the country. It was one of these things that you would actually see people demonstrate against and his wife was publicly opposed.

And it's something that he would talk about almost sheepishly occasionally when it was an issue of debate in society. He was a strong ally of the United States of course. He pushed hard for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even when it was pretty clear that Obama couldn't get it done. And he's one of the reasons why there now is the CPTPP, which is the biggest high standard international trade deal that's been done recently. Abe's free and open Indo-Pacific strategy was a focus on democracies across the region and including the United States. And was really the catalyst for the Quad that we have today. And Abe had the best personal relationship with the Narendra Modi back when Modi was running Gujarat and Abe went to visit him. Very unusual for sitting prime minister to do that with a governor. And India's already announced a national day of mourning on the back of that relationship. And also a strong ally of the United States. And by the way, even with President Trump, who Abe personally could neither understand and he didn't really like him. And certainly, I mean, they were all walking on eggshells before meetings and Abe would laugh about how he would show up and Trump would have all of these numbers that made no sense to him, but he understood how to manage that personal relationship. And did a better job of it frankly, than just about any other leader internationally. Certainly among the advanced industrial democracies.

You'd have to look to the Saudis or the Israelis to find leaders that had better personal relationships forged with Trump.

And I think that helped stabilize and strengthen the Japan-US relationship a great deal. Abe had his share of controversies. To be clear, he was from the more nationalist wing of the party.

He visited the as Yasukuni War Shrine, which caused trouble for Japan relations with China in particular. He wanted to change the constitution of the country to build up the military beyond self defense. He was in some ways kind of like Olaf Scholz of Germany, but without the Ukraine invasion, right?

And it was all about China. And I remember when I would bring up China with him, it was the one time that you would see his pulse race. I mean, you could see his eyes flashing, even the vein on the side of his neck stand out when suddenly China was the topic of conversation in a briefing. And he was convinced that China wanted supremacy in the region and the world, eventually. And that while it was a near-term danger to Taiwan, it was eventually a critical national security danger to Japan. And I would say that one of the biggest dangers here is that if there's any sign of happiness or good riddance from China's leadership on the back of Abe's assassination, that will be met with an extremely sharp and even dangerous reaction from Japan. I note there's already a lot of that kind of response on Chinese social media and the Chinese government needs to be very careful about how they tread here.

But at home, I should be clear that the Japanese nation is not just stable, it is unified. There will be an extraordinary outpouring of sympathy for the prime minister. It will certainly help Prime Minister Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Kishida was already the domestically strongest leader on the G7 stage in the summit a week ago.

And since then, of course, Boris Johnson has resigned and now this. Most importantly, I guess I should just say my sadness. I'd like to share with all of my friends and colleagues in Japan.

So many of whom I saw just last week in what seems like much happier times in Tokyo.

I had great respect and admiration for Abe Shinzo and will miss him. Thanks.

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