Quick Take: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe steps down

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

We've got coronavirus still going on, you wouldn't know that from watching the American media right now. A lot more focus on social violence, on Kenosha, on Portland, but certainly coronavirus.

And the pandemic remains by far the most important issue, both for the United States and globally, not only because there are over a 180,000 dead in the US, but also the extraordinary economic impact and the fact that it is going to stay with us and have such a big impact on lives of the average Americans, on lives of the average citizens globally as we fight to reopen economies, get people back to work, get kids back to school, get a vaccine, or vaccines, that we can trust and we can take. And it's important to understand that even though the election is going to distract us maximally and hopefully engage us maximally over the coming two months and more, because I don't think it's over on November 3rd, that that's still we are dealing with the biggest crisis of our lifetimes and it's going to be with us for a lot longer than this election.

Having said that, getting away from the United States a little bit, there's a lot of news happening. And I thought I talk about a couple of those things. One is that the longest standing prime minister in Japanese history, Shinzo Abe, is stepping down, the second time he has stepped down for health concerns. This time, I would say it is for good. The good news is that Japan is very stable. The Liberal Democratic Party is very entrenched. There's not a lot of inequality in Japan. There is not a lot of individual upset or dissent with the idea that elections are rigged, or institutions are illegitimate.


And so, this is going to be a very smooth process. It's most likely that the chief cabinet secretary Suga-san will be the next PM. But irrespective of whether it's him or one of a number of other prospective prime ministers, it's going to be a very smooth transition "Abenomics" is not going to be changed by the next PM. Not fiscal policy, not monetary policy, not social policy domestically, not the way they've handled the coronavirus. All of that is going to be quite stable. I mean, when I look at the world of advanced industrial democracies, Japan and Germany are the two places that have had the strongest leaders, but they're also the two places where the next governments are likely to look the most like the old governments. And that's a pretty big deal.

Remember, Japan is the third largest economy in the world, and it's important to say just how much of a stabilizing influence they have been in terms of lack of question of internal dissent, but also on the international side, their willingness to engage constructively in ensuring that a Trans-Pacific Partnership continued to happen once the United States pulled out. On climate on the Paris Initiative. In multilateral institutions like the WTO, Japan has continued to be a strong and constructive supporter and arbiter of that international architecture. The place where Abe's influence is going to be truly missed is on the international stage because Japan historically has hit below its weight. It hasn't had a strong military or strong defense policy. It hasn't had very assertive diplomacy. Abe's willingness to get on planes, to travel immensely, to engage personally much more with international leaders. His relationship with Modi, for example, in India, by far, the strongest relationship of any country in the world with India and did help to make India more of a geopolitical force in Asia. And more broadly, that is going to be missed. The willingness of the Japanese to engage economically more deeply with China, even as its national security relationship and nuclear umbrella with the US was unquestioned, that Prime Minister Abe had a great deal to deal with, the desire to make the "Five Eyes" agreement, the cyber and technology coordination with the US and other countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada into a "Six Eyes" agreement. That was driven much more by Abe. I don't think you would have seen a lot of those moves if Abe hadn't been premier.

Also, just the fact that Abe himself was seen as a close friend of Trump and a big supporter of Trump, even though Abe personally really didn't like him. I mean, when you spoke with the prime minister and you spoke with his key advisers after his meetings with Trump, he was enormously frustrated because, you know, Trump didn't have facts and he didn't know what might lead to a blow up or an explosion or how the meeting was going to go was extremely difficult for the Japanese to come, incredibly prepared to every meeting to be working with someone who was incredibly unprepared and just wings it all the time. And yet Abe's relationship with Trump has actually been extremely stable. And Trump considers Abe to be one of his closer friends internationally. That's really a testament to Abe in a way that Merkel really hasn't done any of that. And that's been much worse for the US-Germany relationship than it has been the US-Japan relationship. So, a little bit of how we think about Japan right now.

Another big piece that's worth at least mentioning is the end of the UAE boycott of Israel. You now see the first direct air flights happening between the UAE and Israel. This is a big deal. This is the beginning of greater normalization of ties between Israel and a number of states in the Arab world. In the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, also more broadly, Morocco, Sudan look like they are moving towards normalization. Bahrain, I could easily see that happening. There's been a big trip by Secretary of State Pompeo to a number of these countries just a week ago. Now you see Jared Kushner also making these trips. This is because they want to work with Israel on national security issues, because common concerns about Iran outweigh common outweigh disparate alignment on the Palestinian issue, because the desires to engage in economic trade and technology exchange and educational change is more important for a number of countries that understand they've got to get beyond oil really fast. And certainly, the UAE has been quickest in that environment because they have a much more diversified economy. They've got a lot of young people that are getting engaged, a very globalized place. There aren't a lot of Emiratis that live in the UAE. In fact, in Dubai, it's something like 10 percent. It's nice to see that we are creating more normalized diplomacy.

Look, I was always someone that believed that the more engagement we have between leaders, even of countries that don't get along in fundamental ways, the better off we are. I was all in favor of Trump talking to the North Koreans. Doesn't mean I wanted to have a really big summit with all the pageantry, giving them legitimization. But I do like the idea of engaging diplomatically so we can learn more about these countries and maybe have a better shot of improving the places that we disagree. I would have had no problem with Obama meeting with the Iranians. I mean, on the back of that nuclear deal, which was very limited, but there really still hasn't been a lot of diplomatic engagement. So, the more diplomatic engagement generally, the better. And I see that in the Middle East, especially as the United States is playing less of a role in the Middle East. And I think that is structural. Whether it's Trump or Biden for the next four years, I think that is an unmitigatedly useful development and something we will see more of going forward.

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