Assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a campaign event in Nara. Video / access point
The assassination of Shinzo Abe is not just a tragic end to the life of Japan’s longest serving post-war leader.
It also brings back the specter of violence against major political figures in
frightening reality – at a tense time when the Capitol Riot of January 6, 2021 is analyzed in the United States, and the war in Ukraine and economic tensions dominate world events.
As recently as Saturday, Sri Lankan protesters angry at the economic disaster in their country stormed the president’s residence in Colombo, forcing him to flee.
Incidents of gun violence in the United States, Denmark and Norway also made headlines.
Abe, 67, a two-time former prime minister in charge of the G7 nation just a few years ago, was shot dead with what appeared to be a homemade weapon while speaking at a campaign in Nara.
This will have caused a deep shock in Japan and reverberated around the world.
Guns are strictly regulated in Japan, and shootings and political violence are rare.
Abe was the first head of government to be killed in Japan since World War II.
He was the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister from 1957 to 1960 who survived a knife attack.
Abe was a high-ranking global statesman during his second term from 2012 to 2020, bringing a new degree of stability to Japan. Prior to his first term in 2006 and 2007, the country had known nine leaders in 16 years.
As a leader, Abe weathered a financial crisis and helped keep the Trans-Pacific Partnership intact after Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact. In this age of social media, Abe had a bizarre White House moment with a 19-second Trump handshake during a visit in 2017.
More seriously, Abe had to deal with the long aftermath of the 2011 triple whammy of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.
The Quad forum of Japan, the United States, India and Australia – which has grown in importance over the past two years – was an initiative of Abe.
He pushed for Japan’s security laws to be changed and said the country needed to move beyond its post-war pacifism to a greater emphasis on its own defense and a greater global role.
Abe told The Economist in May this year, when asked about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that Japan “understands that our own efforts and our own will are of the utmost importance when it comes to protecting our country”.
His views on curbing China’s influence and the need for other nations to step up security fit a popular foreign policy narrative.
This week’s Pacific Leaders Forum in Fiji will discuss political and security competition in the region as one of the two major issues, alongside climate change. The recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will also be important.
But the growing battle for influence between China and the United States is attracting attention.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the Lowy Institute think tank in Australia last week that the Pacific Islands Forum is “essential to solving regional problems and that local security problems must be solved locally”.
Despite his focus on foreign threats, tragically for Abe, the most destructive danger to him personally was at home.