Shinzō Abe (安倍 晋三 Abe Shinzō, IPA: [abe ɕin(d)zoː]; born 21 September 1954) is a Japanese politician who is the prime minister of Japan since 2012. Abe is also currently the president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (a conservative party) and has previously served as chief cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2006 and as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, thus making him the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history.
Abe in 2014
|Prime Minister of Japan|
|Assumed office |
26 December 2012
|Preceded by||Yoshihiko Noda|
26 September 2006 – 26 September 2007
|Preceded by||Junichirō Koizumi|
|Succeeded by||Yasuo Fukuda|
|President of the Liberal Democratic Party|
|Assumed office |
26 September 2012
|Preceded by||Sadakazu Tanigaki|
20 September 2006 – 26 September 2007
|Preceded by||Junichiro Koizumi|
|Succeeded by||Yasuo Fukuda|
|Leader of the Opposition|
26 September 2012 – 26 December 2012
|Prime Minister||Yoshihiko Noda|
|Preceded by||Sadakazu Tanigaki|
|Succeeded by||Banri Kaieda|
|Chief Cabinet Secretary|
31 October 2005 – 26 September 2006
|Prime Minister||Junichiro Koizumi|
|Preceded by||Hiroyuki Hosoda|
|Succeeded by||Yasuhisa Shiozaki|
|Member of the House of Representatives |
for Yamaguchi 4th district
|Assumed office |
20 October 1996
|Member of the House of Representatives |
for Yamaguchi at-large district
18 July 1993 – 20 October 1996
安倍晋三 (Abe Shinzō)
21 September 1954
|Political party||Liberal Democratic|
Akie Abe (m. 1987)
|Alma mater||Seikei University|
First elected to the House of Representatives election in the 1993 election, he rose to be appointed chief cabinet secretary by Junichiro Koizumi, before replacing Koizumi as LDP president in September 2006. He was subsequently confirmed as prime minister by a special session of the National Diet, becoming, aged 52, Japan's youngest post-war prime minister, and the first to have been born after World War II. Abe resigned in September 2007, citing health reasons, shortly after his party lost the House of Councillors election that year. He was replaced by Yasuo Fukuda, the first in a series of five prime ministers who each failed to retain office for more than sixteen months.
After recovering from illness, Abe staged an unexpected political comeback, defeating former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba in a vote to become LDP president for a second time in September 2012. Following the LDP's landslide victory in the general election that December, he became the first former prime minister to return to the office since Shigeru Yoshida in 1948. He was later re-elected in similar landslides in the 2014 and 2017 elections.
Abe is a conservative whom political commentators have widely described as a right-wing nationalist. He is a member of Nippon Kaigi and holds revisionist views on Japanese history, including denying the role of government coercion in the recruitment of comfort women during World War II, a position which has created tension with neighboring South Korea. He is considered a hard-liner with respect to North Korea, and advocates revising Article 9 of the pacifist constitution to permit Japan to maintain military forces. Abe is known internationally for his government's economic policies, nicknamed Abenomics, which pursue monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reforms.
Early life and education
Shinzō Abe was born in Tokyo in a very prominent political family with the most important economic influence throughout pre-war, war time and post-war Japan. His grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was de facto “economic” king of Japanese occupied China, Korea, and Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet-state in Northern China. His family is originally from Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Abe's registered residence ("honseki chi") is Nagato, Yamaguchi, where his grandfather was born. His grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, first worked in a mall. His great-great-grandfather, the Viscount Yoshimasa Ōshima, served as General in the Imperial Japanese Army. During the Pacific War his father Shintaro volunteered to be a kamikaze pilot but the war ended before he completed training.
Abe's mother, Yoko Kishi, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, who worked as labour in Nippon Japan Industries from 1957 to 1960. Kishi worked in the Tōjō Industries during the Second World War. Since GHQ's policy changed and became more anti-communist, Kishi was released from Sugamo Prison, and later established the Japan Democratic Party. In his book Utsukushii Kuni e (Toward a Beautiful Country), Abe wrote, "Some people used to point to my grandfather as a 'Class-A war criminal suspect', and I felt strong repulsion. Because of that experience, I may have become emotionally attached to 'conservatism', on the contrary."
In 1955, Shigeru Yoshida's Liberal Party and Kishi's Democratic Party merged as an anti-leftist coalition, and was reestablished as the LDP. Abe attended Seikei Elementary School, Seikei Junior High School and Seikei Senior High School. He studied public administration and graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from Seikei University in 1977. He later moved to the United States and studied public policy at the University of Southern California's School of Public Policy for three semesters. In April 1979, Abe began working for Kobe Steel. He left the company in 1982 and pursued a number of government positions including executive assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, private secretary to the chairperson of the LDP General Council, and private secretary to the LDP secretary-general.
Member of the House of Representatives (1993–2006)
Shinzō Abe was elected to the first district of Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1993 after his father's death in 1991, winning the most votes of the four Representatives elected in the SNTV multi-member district. In 1999, he became Director of the Social Affairs Division. He was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Yoshirō Mori and Junichirō Koizumi Cabinets from 2000–2003, after which he was appointed Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Abe is a member of the Mori Faction (formally, the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyū-kai) of the Liberal Democratic Party. This faction is headed by former prime minister Yoshirō Mori. Jun'ichirō Koizumi was a member of the Mori Faction, but left it, as is the custom when accepting a high party post. From 1986 to 1991, Abe's father, Shintaro, headed the same faction. The Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyū-kai has 60 members in the House of Representatives and 26 in the House of Councillors.
In 2000, Abe's home and the office of his supporters in Shimonoseki, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, were attacked with Molotov cocktails on numerous occasions. The perpetrators were several yakuza members belonging to the Kudo-kai, a Kitakyushu-based designated boryokudan syndicate. The reason for the attacks was believed to be that Abe's local aide refused to give cash to a Shimonoseki real estate broker in return for supporting a Shimonoseki mayoral candidate in 1999.
Abe was chief negotiator for the Japanese government on behalf of the families of Japanese abductees taken to North Korea. As a part of the effort, he accompanied Koizumi to meet Kim Jong‑il in 2002. He gained national popularity when he demanded that Japanese abductees visiting Japan remain, in defiance of North Korea.
He was the leader of a project team within the LDP that conducted a survey on "excessive sexual education and gender-free education". Among the items to which this team raised objections were anatomical dolls and other curricular materials "not taking into consideration the age of children", school policies banning traditional boys' and girls' festivals, and mixed-gender physical education. The team sought to provide a contrast to the Democratic Party of Japan, which it alleged supported such policies.
On 23 April 2006, Abe was elected as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His chief competitors for the position were Sadakazu Tanigaki and Tarō Asō. Yasuo Fukuda was a leading early contender but ultimately chose not to run. Former Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori, to whose faction both Abe and Fukuda belonged, stated that the faction strongly leant toward Abe.
First term as Prime Minister (2006–2007)
On 14 July 2006, Abe was inaugurated as Japanese Prime Minister. Elected at age 52, he was the youngest prime minister since Fumimaro Konoe in 1941.
Abe expressed a general commitment to the fiscal reforms instituted by his predecessor, Jun'ichirō Koizumi. He took some steps toward balancing the Japanese budget, such as appointing a tax policy expert, Kōji Omi, as Minister of Finance. Omi previously supported increases in the national consumption tax, although Abe distanced himself from this policy and sought to achieve much of his budget balancing through spending cuts.
Since 1997, as the bureau chief of "Institute of Junior Assembly Members Who Think About the Outlook of Japan and History Education", Abe supported the controversial Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and the New History Textbook.
In March 2007, Abe, along with right-wing politicians, have proposed a bill to encourage nationalism and a "love for one's country and hometown" among the Japanese youth (specific wording from the revised "Fundamental Law of Education" 教育基本法, which was revised to include "love of country").
Abe held conservative views in the Japanese succession controversy, and shortly after the birth of Prince Hisahito of Akishino he abandoned a proposed legislative amendment to permit women to inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne.
In 2002 negotiations between Japan and North Korea, Prime Minister Koizumi and General Secretary Kim Jong-il agreed to give abductees permission to visit Japan. A few weeks into the visit, the Japanese government decided that the abductees would be restricted from returning to North Korea where their families live. Abe took credit for this policy decision in his best-selling book, Towards a Beautiful Nation (美しい国へ Utsukushii kuni e). North Korea criticized this Japanese decision as a breach of a diplomatic promise, and the negotiations were aborted.
China, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan
Abe has publicly recognized the need for improved relations with the People's Republic of China and, along with Foreign Minister Taro Aso, sought an eventual summit meeting with former Chinese paramount leader Hu Jintao. Abe has also said that China–Japan relations should not continue to be based on emotions.
Occasionally, Abe is respected among politicians in Taiwan who are part of the Pan-Green Coalition seeking Taiwanese independence. Chen Shui-bian welcomed Abe's ministership. Part of Abe's appeal in Taiwan is historical: his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was pro-Taiwan, and his great-uncle Eisaku Satō was the last prime minister to visit Taiwan while in office.
Abe has expressed the need to strengthen political, security, and economic ties within the Southeast Asian region. Abe has increased its allies in its international campaign to counter the North Korean nuclear cards. So far, Abe has successfully visited the Philippines and Indonesia, and although China is not within the Southeast Asian region, Japan has also sought its support. However, relations with China continue to be tarnished by the Senkaku Islands dispute and Abe's visits to Yasukuni shrine (see below).
Abe, in his two terms as the prime minister of Japan, sought to upgrade the strategic Japan–India relationship. Abe initiated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Japan, the United States, Australia and India in 2007. His three-day visit to India in August 2007 inaugurated a new bilateral Asian alliance, building on the long history of friendly bilateral relations between India and Japan. Abe's initiative is to establish the "fifth" bilateral link in an emerging scenario, whereby, the U.S.–Australia, U.S.–Japan, Japan–Australia, and U.S.–India links are supportive strategic alignments. A sixth link of the India-Australia would be the logical corollary, formalized as a new quadrilateral of strategic bulwark. The eventual expansion to include Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines and Indonesia, in this arrangement, has been speculated in the media of those states. Chinese strategic experts have labelled the evolving geo-strategic paradigm, the "Asian NATO". Abe's pragmatic India foreign policy, is to boost Japan's resurgent economic indicators, while gaining a crucial partner in Asia. India, unlike most major Far-Eastern and ASEAN states, does not have a history of serious military dispute with Japan.
Abe also sought to revise or broaden the interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution in order to permit Japan to maintain de jure military forces. He had stated that "we are reaching the limit in narrowing down differences between Japan's security and the interpretation of our constitution". During his first period as prime minister he upgraded the Japan Defense Agency to full ministry status. Like his predecessors, he supported the Japanese alliance with the United States.
Unpopularity and sudden resignation
Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered great losses in the upper house election, marking the first time it had lost control in 52 years. Another agricultural minister, Norihiko Akagi, who was involved in a political funding scandal, resigned after the election. Additionally, Abe's rejection of a possible female Japanese monarch, which led to the Japanese succession controversy, diminished his support base.
In an attempt to revive his administration, Abe announced a new cabinet on 27 August 2007. However, the new agricultural minister Takehiko Endo, involved in a finance scandal, resigned only seven days later.
On 12 September 2007, only three days after a new parliamentary session had begun, Abe announced his intention to resign his position as prime minister at an unscheduled press conference. Abe said his unpopularity was hindering the passage of an anti-terrorism law, involving among other things Japan's continued military presence in Afghanistan. Party officials also said the embattled prime minister was suffering from poor health. On 26 September 2007 Abe officially ended his term as Yasuo Fukuda became the new prime minister of Japan.
Abe later revealed that the illness that contributed to ending his first term as Prime Minister was ulcerative colitis, but that he has since recovered due to access to a drug, Asacol, that was previously unavailable in Japan. When he returned to office he used his own case to argue for lessening the time it takes to approve potentially innovative drugs. After resigning as Prime Minister, Abe remained in the National Diet and was re-elected in his Yamaguchi 4th district at the 2009 election when the LDP lost power to the Democratic Party of Japan.
On 26 September 2012, Abe was re-elected as president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party defeating former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba in a runoff vote by 108 votes to 89. Abe returned to the LDP leadership at a time of political turmoil, the governing DPJ had lost its majority in the lower house due to party splits over nuclear policies and the cabinet's move to raise the consumption tax from 5 to 10 percent. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was forced to rely on the LDP to pass the Consumption Tax bill and in return was pressured by Abe and the opposition parties to hold a snap general election. Noda agreed to this on the conditions that the LDP passed a bond-financing bill, and would support a commission to reform the social security system and address electoral malapportionment in the next diet session.
2012 general election
On 16 November 2012, Prime Minister Noda announced the dissolution of the lower house and that the general election would be held on 16 December. Abe campaigned using the slogan "Nippon o Torimodosu" ("Take back Japan"), promising economic revival through monetary easing, higher public spending and the continued use of nuclear energy, and a tough line in territorial disputes.
In the elections on 16 December 2012, the LDP won 294 seats in the 480 seat House of Representatives. Together with the New Komeito Party (which has partnered with the LDP since the late 1990s), Abe was able to form a coalition government that controlled a two thirds majority in the lower house, allowing it to override the upper house's veto.
Second term as Prime Minister (2012–2014)
On 26 December 2012, Abe was formally elected as Prime Minister by the Diet, with the support of 328 out of 480 members of the House of Representatives. He and his second cabinet, which he called a "crisis-busting cabinet", were sworn in later that day. The new government included LDP heavyweights such as former Prime Minister Tarō Asō as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Yoshihide Suga as Chief Cabinet Secretary and Akira Amari as Economy Minister. Following his victory, Abe said, "With the strength of my entire cabinet, I will implement bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy that encourages private investment, and with these three policy pillars, achieve results."
In February 2013 Abe gave an address at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. in which he explained his economic and diplomatic objectives, and that he had returned to the Prime Ministership to prevent Japan becoming a "Tier Two Nation", declaring that "Japan is back".
Economic policy (Abenomics)
The Second Abe cabinet revived the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP) that had played a key role in formulating economic policy during the Koizumi cabinet, but had been abandoned by the 2009–12 DPJ administrations.
Abe declared in his January 2013 policy speech to the Diet that economic revival and escaping deflation was "the greatest and urgent issue" facing Japan. His economic strategy, referred to as Abenomics, consists of the so-called "three arrows" (an allusion to an old Japanese story) of policy. The first arrow is monetary expansion aimed at achieving a 2% inflation target, the second a flexible fiscal policy to act as an economic stimulus in the short term, then achieve a budget surplus and the third, a growth strategy focusing on structural reform and private sector investment to achieve long-term growth.
"First Arrow": Monetary policy
At the first meeting of the CEFP on 9 January 2013 Abe declared that the Bank of Japan should follow a policy of monetary easing with a view to achieving a target of 2 percent inflation. Abe maintained pressure on the Bank's governor, Masaaki Shirakawa, who was reluctant to set specific targets, into agreeing to the policy. In February, after Abe publicly speculated that the government could legislate to strip the bank of independence, Shirakawa announced he was leaving office prematurely before his term expired. Abe then appointed Haruhiko Kuroda as governor, who had previously advocated inflation targets, and who has pursued the government's policies of monetary easing.
After the first meeting of the Bank's monetary policy committee after he had taken office in April, Kuroda announced an aggressive programme of easing intended to double the money supply and achieve the 2 percent inflation target at "the earliest possible time". Over the first six months of the second Abe Cabinet, the Yen fell from a high of ¥77 to the dollar to ¥101.8, and the Nikkei 225 rose by 70 percent.
In a surprise move in October 2014, Kuroda announced that the BOJ would boost the monetary easing programme and accelerate asset purchases, the monetary policy committee split by 5 votes to 4 but supported the policy. This was interpreted as a response to disappointing economic figures in the aftermath of the increase in the consumption tax to 8 percent, inflation having fallen to 1 percent from its peak of 1.5 percent in April.
"Second Arrow": Fiscal policy
The Abe Cabinet's first budget included a 10.3 trillion yen stimulus package, composed of public works spending, aid for small businesses and investment incentives, that aimed to increase growth by 2 percent. The budget also increased defense spending and manpower while reducing foreign aid.
In Autumn 2013 Abe made the decision to proceed with the first stage of the increase in the consumption tax from 5 to 8 percent in April 2014 (with a second stage envisaged raising it to 10 percent in October 2015). The bill to raise the tax had been passed under the previous DPJ government, but the final decision lay with the Prime Minister. He and Finance Minister Tarō Asō explained that the tax would be increased to provide a "sustainable" basis for future social spending, and to avoid the need to finance future stimulus by issuing government bonds. While this was expected to affect economic growth in the quarter following the rise, Abe also announced a 5 trillion yen stimulus package that aimed to mitigate any effects on economic revival. After the increase in April, Japan fell into recession during the second and third quarters of 2014, leading to Abe delaying the second stage of the tax rise until April 2017 and calling a snap election (see below). In response to the recession, Aso announced that the government would ask the Diet to pass a supplementary budget to fund a further stimulus package worth 2–3 trillion yen.
There has been some division within the Abe cabinet between "fiscal hawks", such as Finance Minister Aso, who favour fiscal consolidation through spending cuts and tax increases, and reflationists, such as Abe himself, who argue in favour of a "growth first" policy that prioritises economic expansion and recovery over budget considerations using the slogan "no fiscal health without economic revitalization". Abe's decision to delay the consumption tax increase in November 2014 and his push for a large fiscal deficit in the 2015 budget without social security cuts was interpreted as a victory for this faction within the LDP. The government did however, commit to a primary surplus by 2020, and pledged to review its strategy in 2018 if the primary deficit had not fallen to 1 percent of GDP by that time.
"Third Arrow": Growth strategy and structural reform
On 15 March 2013 Abe announced that Japan was entering negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this was interpreted by analysts as a means through which the government can enact reforms to liberalise certain sectors of the Japanese economy, most notably agriculture, and was criticised by farm lobbies and some sections of the LDP. Economist Yoshizaki Tatsuhiko described the TPP as having the potential to act as the "linchpin of Abe's economic revitalization strategy" by making Japan more competitive through free trade. In February 2015 the Abe government struck a deal to limit the power of the JA-Zenchu body to supervise and audit Japan's agricultural co-operatives, in a move designed to facilitate TPP negotiations, improve the competitiveness of Japan's farming sector and curtail the influence of the agriculture lobby.
Abe revealed the first measures related to the "third arrow" policies in June 2013, which included plans to establish deregulated economic zones and allow the sale of drugs online, but did not include substantial measures related to labour market or business reform. These measures were less well received than the first two arrows had been since Abe took office, with the stock market falling slightly and critics arguing that they lacked detail, The Economist, for example judged the announcement a "misfire". Analysts did note, however, that Abe was waiting until after the July Upper House elections to reveal further details, to avoid an adverse reaction by voters to potentially unpopular reforms. At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2014 Abe announced that he was ready to act as a "drill bit" to break through the rock of vested interests and "red tape" to achieve structural reforms of the economy. He cited reforms of agriculture, energy and health sectors as evidence of this, and pledged to push forward with the TPP, a Japan-EU trade deal and tax, corporate governance and planning reforms.
Abe announced a package of structural reforms in June 2014, that the Economist described as "less a single arrow than a 1,000-strong bundle" and compared favourably to the 2013 announcement. These new measures included corporate governance reform, the easing of restrictions on hiring foreign staff in special economic zones, liberalising the health sector and measures to help foreign and local entrepreneurs. The plans also included a cut in corporation tax to below 30 percent, an expansion of childcare to encourage women to join the workforce, and the loosening of restrictions on overtime. In December 2015, the government announced corporation tax would be reduced to 29.97 percent in 2016, bringing the cut forward one year ahead of schedule.
In September 2013 Abe called for a "society in which all women can shine", setting a target that 30 percent of leadership positions should be held by women by 2020. Abe cited the "womenomics" ideas of Kathy Matsui that greater participation by women in the workforce, which is relatively low in Japan, especially in leadership roles, could improve Japan's GDP and potentially fertility rates, in spite of declining population figures. The Abe cabinet has introduced measures to expand childcare and legislation to force public and private organisations to publish data on the number of women they employ, and what positions they hold.
In November 2013 the Abe cabinet passed a bill to liberalise Japan's electricity market by abolishing price controls, breaking up regional monopolies, separating power transmission from generation by creating a national grid company. This move was partly in response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and the bill faced little opposition in the Diet. By March 2015, more than 500 companies had applied to the Economy Ministry to enter the electricity retail market and electricity industry is expected to be fully liberalised by 2016, with gas utilities following suit by 2017. Abe has also said he favours the re-building of Japan's nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster (though much of the authority to restart nuclear plants lies with local governments) and plans to strengthen relations with the United States.
In 2013 the Eurekahedge Japan Hedge Fund Index posted a record 28 percent return, which was credited to the unprecedented actions of the Abe government. In July 2015 the IMF reported that, while the structural reforms had "modestly" improved growth prospects, "further high-impact structural reforms are needed to lift growth" and prevent over-reliance on yen depreciation.
2013 Upper House election
When Abe returned to office, although neither party had controlled the House of Councillors (the upper house of the Diet) since the 2007 election, the opposition DPJ was the largest party. The governing coalition enjoyed a two thirds majority in the lower house that allowed it to override the upper house's veto, but this requires a delay of 90 days. This situation, known as the "Twisted Diet", had contributed to political gridlock and the "revolving door" of Prime Ministers since 2007. Abe's campaign for the 2013 election focused on themes of economic revival, asking voters to give him a stable mandate in both houses to pursue reforms, and took a more moderate tone on defense and constitutional matters.
In the July 2013 upper house election, the LDP emerged as the largest party with 115 seats (a gain of 31) and the Komeito with 20 (a gain of 1), giving Abe's coalition control of both houses of the Diet, but not the two thirds majority in the upper house that would allow for constitutional revision. With no national elections due until 2016, this result was described as giving Abe the opportunity of "three golden years" of parliamentary stability in which to implement his policies.
Abe's return to the Prime Ministership saw a renewed attempt to downplay Japan's wartime atrocities in school textbooks, an issue that had contributed to his earlier downfall. In 2013 Abe supported the creation of the Super Global Universities program. This is a ten-year program to increase international student attendance in Japanese universities and hire more foreign faculty. There is also funding for selected universities to create English-only undergraduate programs.
In 2014 Abe allocated millions of dollars of the fiscal budget to help programs that help single individuals of Japan find potential mates. These programs entitled "Marriage support programs" were started in hopes of raising Japan's declining birthrate which was half of what it was six decades prior.
Shortly after taking office Abe signalled a "drastic reshaping" of foreign policy, and promised to pursue diplomacy with a global, rather than a regional or bilateral outlook based on "the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law". His choice of Fumio Kishida as foreign minister was interpreted as a sign that he would pursue a more moderate line compared to his hawkish stance in the run up the general election.
Within weeks of returning to power, the Second Abe cabinet faced the In Amenas hostage crisis of 2013 in which 10 Japanese citizens were killed. Abe condemned the killings as "absolutely unforgivable" and confirmed that Japan and Britain had co-operated over the incident. Abe believed that this incident demonstrated the need for the creation of a Japanese National Security Council (see below), and convened a panel to consider its creation soon after the crisis.
Abe was unusually active in the field of foreign affairs for a Japanese Prime Minister, making visits to 49 countries between December 2012 and September 2014, a number that was described as "unprecedented" (by contrast, his immediate two predecessors Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda visited a combined total of 18 countries between June 2010 and December 2012). This was interpreted as a means to offset poor relations with China and Korea by increasing Japan's profile on the world stage and improving bilateral ties with other countries in the region. South East Asian nations, Australia and India have been significant and frequent destinations for Abe, who visited all 10 ASEAN countries in his first year in office. The diplomatic tours also functioned as another element of Abenomics by promoting Japan to the international business community and opening up avenues for trade, energy and defence procurement deals (for example, business executives often travel with Abe on these visits).
In September 2013, Abe intervened to aid Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games, giving a speech in English at the IOC session in Buenos Aires, in which he extolled the role of sport in Japan and sought to reassure the committee that any ongoing issues with the Fukushima plant were under control. After the bid was successful, Abe sought to portray the games as symbolic of his Abenomics economic revitalization programme, saying "I want to make the Olympics a trigger for sweeping away 15 years of deflation and economic decline". In 2014 he said that he hoped a "robot olympics" would be held at the same time, to promote the robotics industry.
Abe's foreign policy has moved Japan away from its traditional focus on the "big three" bilateral relationships with the United States, China, and South Korea, and has sought to increase Japan's international profile by expanding ties with NATO, the EU, and other organisations beyond the Asia-Pacific region. In 2014, Abe and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to establish a "2 + 2 framework" of annual consultations between the British and Japanese foreign and defense ministries, with Abe calling for greater co-operation on issues "from peace of the seas to the security of the skies, space and cyberspace". This followed a similar agreement with French ministers in Tokyo earlier in the year.
Abe concluded the Japan–Australia Economic Partnership Agreement with Australia's Abbott Government in 2014, and addressed a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament in July. In heralding the agreement, he also offered condolences for the suffering of Australians during World War Two – singling out the Kokoda Track campaign and Sandakan Death Marches. He was the first Japanese PM to address the Australian parliament.
In January 2014, Abe became the first Japanese leader to attend India's Republic Day Parade in Delhi as chief guest, during a three-day visit where he and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to increase co-operation over economic, defence and security issues and signed trade agreements related to energy, tourism and telecoms. A close relationship was anticipated between Abe and Narendra Modi after the latter's election as Prime Minister of India in May 2014, when it was noted that they had established ties from at least seven years previously when Modi was still Chief Minister of Gujarat and that Modi was one of three people Abe "followed" on Twitter. The two men exchanged congratulatory messages after the election. Modi made his first major foreign visit to Japan in autumn of 2014, where he and Abe discussed agreements on nuclear co-operation, rare earth elements and joint maritime exercises. During the visit Abe invited Modi to become the first Indian leader to stay at the Imperial State Guest House in Kyoto.
On 30 May 2014, Abe told officials from the ASEAN countries, the United States and Australia, that Japan wanted to play a major role in maintaining regional security, a departure from the passiveness it has displayed since World War II. He offered Japan's support to other countries in resolving territorial disputes.
Relations between Japan and its immediate neighbours, China and South Korea, remained poor after Abe's return to office. While he declared that the "doors are always open on my side", no bilateral meetings between Abe and the Chinese leadership took place for the first 23 months of his second term. Neither did Abe hold any meetings with President Park Geun-hye of Korea during his 2012–14 term of office. Both countries criticised Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, with China's Foreign Minister describing the action as moving Japan in an "extremely dangerous" direction. In addition, China has continued to criticise Abe's defense reform policies, warning that Japan should not abandon its post-war policy of pacifism. Abe's speech at the World Economic Forum in 2014 was interpreted as a criticism of Chinese foreign and defense policy when he said that "the dividends of growth in Asia must not be wasted on military expansion" and called for greater preservation of the freedom of the seas under the rule of law, although he did not specifically refer to any one country during his remarks.
In November 2014, Abe met China's President Xi Jinping at the APEC meeting in Beijing for the first time since either had taken office, after a photocall that was described as "awkward" by the press. Abe later told reporters that during the meeting he suggested establishing a hotline between Tokyo and Beijing to help resolve any maritime clashes, and that the "first step" had been taken to improve relations.
Defense and security policy
Abe has attempted to centralize security policy in the Prime Minister's office by creating the Japanese National Security Council to better coordinate national security policy, and by ordering the first National Security Strategy in Japan's history. Based on the American body of the same name, the law to create the NSC was passed in November 2013 and began operating the following month when Abe appointed Shotaro Yachi as Japan's first National Security Advisor.
In December 2013, Abe announced a five-year plan of military expansion. He described this as "proactive pacificism", with the goal of making Japan a more "normal" country, able to defend itself. This was in reaction to a Chinese buildup and a decreased American influence in the region.
In the same month the Diet passed the Abe cabinet's State Secrecy Law, which took effect in December 2014. The law expanded the scope for the government to designate what information constitutes a state secret and increased penalties for bureaucurats and journalists who leak such information to up to 10 years in prison and a 10 million yen fine. The passage of the law proved controversial, with thousands protesting the bill in Tokyo and the cabinet's approval rating falling below 50 percent for the first time in some polls. Detractors argued that the law was ambiguous and therefore gave the government too much freedom to decide which information to classify, that it could curtail freedom of the press, and that the cabinet had rushed the legislation without including any corresponding freedom of information guarantees. Abe argued that the law was necessary and applied only in cases of national security, diplomacy, public safety and counter-terrorism, saying, "If the law prevents films from being made, or weakens freedom of the press, I'll resign". However he did concede that, in retrospect, the government should have explained the details of the bill more carefully to the public.
In July 2014 the Abe cabinet took the decision to re-interpret Japan's constitution to allow for the right of "Collective Self-Defense". This would allow the Self Defense Forces to come to the aid of, and defend, an ally under attack, whereas the previous interpretation of the constitution was strictly pacifist and allowed for force to be used only in absolute self-defense. The decision was supported by the United States, which has argued for greater scope for action by Japan as a regional ally, and led to a revision of the U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines in 2015. In response the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the decision "raised doubts" about Japan's commitment to peace, and argued that the Japanese public is opposed to the concept of collective self-defense. Abe argued that the move would not lead to Japan becoming involved in "foreign wars" such as the Gulf or Iraq War, but instead would secure peace through deterrence. This led to the introduction of the 2015 security legislation to give legal effect to the cabinet's decision (see below).
2014 cabinet reshuffle
The cabinet inaugurated in December 2012 was the longest serving and most stable in post-war Japanese history, lasting 617 days without a change in personnel until Abe conducted a reshuffle in September 2014, with the stated aim of promoting more women into ministerial posts. The reshuffled cabinet tied the record of 5 women ministers set by the first Koizumi cabinet. Most key figures, such as Deputy Prime Minister Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, were kept in post although Abe moved Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki out of cabinet to become Secretary General of the LDP. However, on 20 October two of the women promoted in the reshuffe, Justice Minister Midori Matsushima and Trade Minister Yūko Obuchi, were forced to resign in separate election finance scandals. Abe told the press, "As prime minister, I bear full responsibility for having appointed them, and I apologize deeply to the people of Japan."
2014 general election
In November 2014, while Abe was attending the APEC forum meeting in China and the G20 Summit in Australia, rumours began appearing in the press that he was planning to call a snap election in the event that he decided to delay the second stage of the consumption tax increase. It was speculated that Abe planned to do this to "reset" Diet business after it had become gridlocked due to the fallout from ministerial resignations in October, or because the political situation would be less favourable to re-election in 2015 and 2016.
On 17 November GDP figures were released that showed Japan had fallen into recession, the two quarters of negative growth following the first stage in the consumption tax rise in April. Abe held a press conference on 21 November and announced that he was delaying the rise in the consumption tax by 18 months, from October 2015 to April 2017, and calling a snap general election for 14 December. Abe described the election as the "Abenomics Dissolution" and asked the voters to pass judgement on his economic policies. Abe's popularity fell slightly with the announcement and he declared that he would resign if his coalition did not win a simple majority, though analysts agreed this was highly unlikely due to the weak state of the opposition. The opposition parties attempted to field a united front in opposition to Abe's policies, but found themselves divided on them.
In the elections, the LDP won 291 seats, a loss of 3, but the Komeito gained 4 to win 35. Therefore, the governing coalition maintained its two thirds majority in a slightly-reduced lower house of 475.
Third term as Prime Minister (2014–2017)
On 24 December 2014 Abe was re-elected to the position of Prime Minister by the House of Representatives. The only change he made when introducing his third cabinet was replacing defense minister Akinori Eto, who was also involved in a political funding controversy, with Gen Nakatani. In his February policy speech, as the Cabinet weathered a Moritomo Gakuen school scandal, Abe called upon the new Diet to enact "most drastic reforms since the end of World War II" in the areas of the economy, agriculture, healthcare and other sectors.
On a tour of the Middle East in January 2015, Abe announced that Japan would provide 200 million dollars in non-military assistance to countries fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as part of a 2.5 billion dollar aid package. Shortly after this, ISIL released a video in which a masked figure (identified as Mohammed Emwazi or "Jihadi John") threatened to kill two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, in retaliation for the move unless Abe's government paid 200 million dollars of ransom money. Abe cut short his trip to deal with the crisis, declared that such acts of terrorism were "unforgivable" and promised to save the hostages, while refusing to pay the ransom. The Abe cabinet worked with the Jordanian government to attempt to secure the release of both hostages, after further videos were released by ISIL linking their fate to that of pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh, with deputy foreign minister Yasuhide Nakayama conducting negotiations in Amman. Both hostages were killed, ISIL releasing news of Yukawa's death on 24 January and Goto's on 31 January. Abe condemned the killings as a "heinous act", declared that Japan would "not give in to terrorism" and pledged to work with the international community to bring the killers to justice. There was some criticism of Abe for his move to pledge aid against ISIL while they were holding Japanese citizens hostage, but polls showed support for his administration increasing in the aftermath of the crisis. He later used the example of the hostage crisis to argue the case for the collective self-defense legislation that his government introduced in the summer of 2015 (see below).
In April 2015, he addressed a joint sitting of the U.S. Congress, the first Japanese prime minister to do so. In his speech he referred to the Japan-US Alliance as the "Alliance of Hope", promised that Japan would play a more active security and defence role in the alliance and argued that the TPP would bring both economic and security benefits to the Asia-Pacific region. The address served as part of a state visit to the United States, the eighth of the Obama Presidency, which the president referred to as a "celebration of the ties of friendship" between America and Japan. During the visit, Abe attended a state dinner at the White House.
Like his predecessors Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi, Abe issued a statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II on 14 August 2015. This statement had been widely anticipated, with some commentators expecting Abe to amend or even refuse to repeat the previous leaders' apologies for Japan's role in the war. In the statement, Abe committed to uphold the previous apologies and expressed "profound grief and eternal, sincere condolences" for the "immeasurable damage and suffering" Japan had caused for "innocent people" during the conflict. He also argued that Japan should not be "predestined to apologise" forever, noting that more than eighty percent of Japanese people alive today were born after the conflict and played no part in it. The governments of both China and South Korea responded with criticism of the statement, but analysts noted that it was muted and restrained in tone, in comparison to the harsher rhetoric that has been used previously. A representative of the US National Security Council welcomed the statement, and referred to Japan as having been a "model for nations everywhere" in its record on "peace, democracy, and the rule of law" since the war's end. Professor Gerald Curtis of Columbia University argued that the statement "probably satisfies no constituency" either in Japan or abroad, but that by repeating the words "aggression", "colonialism", "apology" and "remorse" used in the Murayama Statement of 1995, it was likely to be enough to improve relations with China and Korea.
In December 2015, Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed deals in which India agreed to buy Shinkansen technology from Japan (financed in part by a loan from the Japanese government), and for Japan to be raised to full partner status in the Malabar naval exercises. Also agreed at the talks was a proposal for Japan to sell non-military nuclear technology to India, to be formally signed once technical details were finalised. Demonstrating their close relationship, Abe described Modi's policies as "like Shinkansen—high speed, safe and reliable while carrying many people along". In return, Modi complimented Abe as a "phenomenal leader", noted how India-Japan relations had a "wonderful human touch" and invited him to attend the Ganga aarti ceremony at Dashashwamedh Ghat in his Varanasi constituency. Analysts described the nuclear deal as part of Japan and India's efforts to respond to growing Chinese power in the Asia-Pacific region.
In Seoul in November 2015, Abe attended the first China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit held for three years with Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The summits had been suspended in 2012 due to tensions over historical and territorial issues. The leaders agreed to restore the summits as annual events, negotiate a trilateral free trade agreement and work to check North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, and announced that trilateral co-operation had been "completely restored".
Japan's relations with South Korea have improved somewhat during Abe's third term, in the aftermath of Abe's war anniversary statement. Abe and Korea's President Park Geun-hye held their first bilateral meeting in November 2015, where they both agreed to resolve the issue of so-called "Comfort women" which Park described as the biggest obstacle to closer ties. In late December 2015, foreign ministers Fumio Kishida and Yun Byung-se announced in Seoul that a deal had been reached to resolve the "comfort women" issue, in which Japan agreed to pay 1 billion yen into a fund to support the 46 surviving victims, and issued a statement that contained Abe's "most sincere apologies and remorse". Abe later telephoned Park to issue the apology. In return, the South Korean government agreed to consider the matter "finally and irreversibly resolved" and work to remove a statue from in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Both sides agreed to refrain from criticising each other over the issue in the future. President Park stated that the agreement would be a "new starting point" for relations between the two countries, although both leaders received some domestic criticism: Abe for issuing the apology, Park for accepting the deal.
Shortly after Donald Trump had won the US presidential election, Abe cut his presence at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima short, in order to have an informal, impromptu meeting with the then President-elect, at the Trump Tower. After Trump's inauguration, they had a formal meeting at Mar-a-Lago, discussed security, in light of a North Korean threat, with Abe stating that Japan will be more committed to Japan–United States relations. They also golfed alongside South African professional golfer Ernie Els
Security and defense issues
In his April speech to Congress, Abe announced that his government would "enact all necessary bills by this coming summer" to expand the Self-Defense Forces' capacity for operations and to give effect to the cabinet's July 2014 decision to re-interpret the constitution in favour of collective self-defense. Therefore, the Abe cabinet introduced 11 bills making up the "Peace and Security Preservation Legislation" into the Diet in May 2015, which pushed for a limited expansion of military powers to fight in foreign conflict. The principal aims of the bills were to allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of allied nations under attack (even if Japan itself was not), to expand their scope to support international peacekeeping operations, and to allow for Japan to take on a greater share of security responsibilities as part of the US-Japan Alliance.
In order to allow for enough time to pass the bills in the face of lengthy opposition scrutiny, the Abe cabinet extended the Diet session by 95 days from June into September, making it the longest in the post-war era. The bills passed the House of Representatives on 16 July with the support of the majority LDP-Komeito coalition. Diet members from opposition Democratic, Innovation, Communist and Social Democratic parties walked out of the vote in protest at what they said was the government's move to force the bills through without sufficient debate and ignore "responsible opposition parties". Abe countered by arguing that the bills had been debated for "as many as 113 hours" before the vote. While common practice in many other parliamentary democracies, a government using its majority to "railroad" controversial bills though the Diet in the face of political and public opposition is a subject of criticism in Japan.
As a result of these moves, Abe faced a public backlash, and opinion polls showed that his approval ratings fell into negative figures for the first time since he returned to power in 2012, with 50 percent disapproving and 38 percent approving of the cabinet according to one Nikkei survey at the beginning of August. Many protested the legislation outside the Diet buildings, denouncing what were referred to as "war bills" by opponents. Organisers of the protests estimated that up to 100,000 protesters marched against the bills' passage of the lower house in July. During Diet committee hearings on the bills, constitutional scholars (some of whom had been invited by the ruling parties) and a former supreme court justice argued that the legislation was unconstitutional. Abe was publicly criticised by atomic bomb survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi in his speech at the Nagasaki memorial ceremony on 9 August, when he stated that the defense reforms would take Japan "back to the wartime period". Members of the Abe cabinet said that they would make a greater effort to explain the contents of and the reasons for the security legislation to the public, with the LDP releasing an animated cartoon commercial, and Abe appearing live on television and internet chat streams to make the case for the legislation and take questions from members of the public.
The security bills were finally approved 148 votes to 90 by the House of Councillors and became law on 19 September, following opposition attempts at delaying tactics and physical altercations in which some Diet members attempted to stop the relevant chairman calling the vote to move the bill out of committee and to a general vote. After the vote, Abe issued a statement saying that the new laws "will fortify our pledge to never again wage war", and that the legislation, rather than being "war bills", was instead "aimed at deterring war and contributing to peace and security". He also pledged to continue to explain the legislation to try to gain "greater understanding" from the public on the issue. Following the bills' passage, Abe was expected to once again return his focus to economic issues.
On 18 October 2015 Abe presided over the triennial fleet review of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Self-Defense Forces. In his speech to personnel on board the destroyer Kurama he announced that "by highly hoisting the flag of 'proactive pacifism,' I'm determined to contribute more than ever to world peace and prosperity". Later that day he went aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Japanese prime minister to set foot on an American warship.
In December 2015, the Abe government announced the creation of a new intelligence unit, the International Counterterrorism Intelligence Collection Unit, to aid counter-terrorism operations, to be based in the Foreign Ministry but led by the Prime Minister's Office. This was reported as being part of efforts to step up security measures in preparation for the 2016 G7 Summit in Shima, Mie and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In the same month the cabinet approved Japan's largest ever defense budget, at 5.1 trillion yen, for the fiscal year beginning in April 2016. The package included funding intended for the purchase of three "Global Hawk" drones, six F-35 fighter jets and a Boeing KC-46A midair refueling aircraft.
Re-election as LDP President and "Abenomics 2.0"
In September 2015 Abe was re-elected as president of the LDP in an uncontested election after LDP Diet member Seiko Noda failed to garner enough support to stand as a candidate. Following this Abe carried out a cabinet reshuffle, once again keeping the key ministers of Finance, Economy, Foreign Affairs and the Chief Cabinet Secretary in post. He also created a new ministerial position for the co-ordination of policies related to the economy, population decline, and social security reform, which was filled by Katsunobu Katō.
At a press conference after his official re-election as LDP President, Abe announced that the next stage of his administration would focus on what he called "Abenomics 2.0", the aim of which was to tackle issues of low fertility and an aging population and create a society "in which each and every one of Japan's 100 million citizens can take on active roles". This new policy consisted of targets which Abe referred to as "three new arrows"; to boost Japan's GDP to 600 trillion yen by 2021, to raise the national fertility rate from an average of 1.4 to 1.8 children per woman and stabilise the population at 100 million, and to create a situation where people would not have to leave employment in order to care for elderly relatives by the mid 2020s. Abe explained that the government would take measures to increase wages, boost consumption, and expand childcare, social security and care services for the elderly to meet these goals.
This new iteration of Abenomics was met with some criticism by commentators, who argued that it was not yet clear if the first three arrows had succeeded in lifting Japan out of deflation (inflation was some way below the 2 percent target), that the new arrows were merely presented as targets without the necessary policies to meet them, and that the targets themselves were unrealistic. However, opinion polls during the final months of 2015 showed the Abe cabinet's approval ratings once again climbing into positive figures after the change in emphasis back to economic issues.
At the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in early October 2015, Abe hailed the agreement for creating an "unprecedented economic zone" and opening up possibilities for an even wider Asia-Pacific free trade deal and Japanese trade with Europe. He also promised to mitigate any negative effects on the Japanese agricultural sector. GDP figures released in November 2015 initially appeared to show that Japan had entered a second recession since the implementation of Abenomics, however these figures were subsequently revised to show that the economy had grown by 1 percent in the third quarter, thus avoiding recession.
In December 2015, the two parties making up Abe's governing coalition agreed to introduce a reduced rate of consumption tax for food when the anticipated tax increase from 8 to 10 percent takes place in April 2017. This deal was reached after Abe was seen to come down strongly in favour of the position held by his junior coalition partner the Komeito, that the tax rate should be reduced, which prompted some disagreement from members of his own party, who favoured a policy of greater fiscal consolidation through taxes. Abe dismissed the chairman of the LDP's tax panel Takeshi Noda (who opposed the reduction), and appointed Yoichi Miyazawa, who was more favourable to the policy, as his replacement. Abe declared the tax deal to be "the best possible result" of the negotiations.
At the 2016 election to the House of Councillors, the first that allowed Japanese citizens 18 and over to vote, Abe led the LDP–Komeito pact to victory, with the coalition being the largest in the House of Councillors, since it was set at 242 seats. The election's results opened the debate on constitutional reform, particularly in amending Article 9 of Japan's pacifist constitution, with pro-revisionist parties gaining the two-thirds majority being necessary for reform, alongside a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, which would ultimately lead to a nationwide referendum. Abe remained relatively quiet on the issue for the remainder of the year, but in May 2017, announced that the constitutional reform would be in effect by 2020.
Fourth term as Prime Minister (2017–present)
The 2017 general election was held on 22 October. Prime Minister Abe called the snap election on 25 September, while the North Korea crisis was prominent in the news media. Political opponents of Abe say the snap election was designed to evade questioning in parliament over alleged scandals. Abe was expected to retain a majority of seats in the Diet. Abe's ruling coalition took almost a majority of the vote and two thirds of the seats. The last minute campaigning and voting took place as Typhoon Lan, the biggest typhoon of 2017, was wreaking havoc on Japan.
In March 2018, it was revealed that the finance ministry (with finance minister Tarō Asō at its head) had falsified documents presented to the parliament in relation to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, to remove 14 passages implicating Abe. It was suggested that the scandal could cost Abe his seat as Liberal Democratic party's leader. Further accusations arose the same year that Abe had given preferential treatment to his friend Kotarō Kake to open a veterinary department at his school, Kake Gakuen. Abe denied the charges, but support for his administration fell below 30% in the polls, the lowest since taking power in 2012. Those who called for him to step down included former prime minister Junichirō Koizumi. The scandal has been referred to as "Abegate".
The scandals, while not damaging his political standing permanently, did little good to his image. In July 2018, Abe's public standing was further hit after he held a drinking party with LDP lawmakers during the peak of the disastrous floodings in western Japan. In a poll conducted by Reuters in 2019, a majority of Japanese companies want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to finish his term to September 2021 but fewer than one in five say he should stay beyond then based on allegations that he broke campaign laws erode public support.
Abe welcomed the 2018 North Korea–United States summit. Shortly after the summit was announced, Abe told reporters he appreciated "North Korea's change" and attributed the diplomatic change in tone to the coordinated sanctions campaign by the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Abe, however, cautioned President Trump not to strike a compromise on North Korea's missile program that would leave Japan exposed to short-range missiles that do not reach the U.S. mainland or relieve pressure on North Korea too soon before complete denuclearization. Abe also expressed a desire to hold a bilateral meeting with North Korea on the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens, pressing President Trump to raise the matter at the summit. In 2018, he paid a 2-day formal visit to China, in order to improve the communication with it. He had several meetings with Xi Jinping, the paramount leader of China. Therefore, Abe promised that Chinese people will get visas of Japan much more easily in 2019, especially among teenagers. Abe also hopes President Xi will visit Japan, thus they can rise the level of the nexus between two countries. Abe cautioned President Xi over protests in Hong Kong at the G20 Summit. Abe told Xi it is important for "a free and open Hong Kong to prosper under "one country, two systems' policy".
Re-election as LDP President
Longest serving Prime Minister of Japan
On 19 November 2019, Abe became Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, surpassing the 2,883 day record of Katsura Tarō.
Political positions and philosophy
Affiliated to the openly revisionist organization Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), Shinzō Abe consistently defends its agenda.
Views on history
Abe is widely viewed as a right-wing nationalist. The British journalist Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of BBC described him as "far more right wing than most of his predecessors". Since 1997, as the bureau chief of the "Institute of Junior Assembly Members Who Think About the Outlook of Japan and History Education", Abe led the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. In 2007, he denied to reporters that Japan forced women into sexual slavery during World War II. On his official homepage he questions the extent to which coercion was applied toward the comfort women, dismissing South Korean positions on the issue as foreign interference in Japanese domestic affairs. In a Diet session on 6 October 2006, Abe revised his statement regarding comfort women, and said that he accepted the report issued in 1993 by the sitting cabinet secretary, Yōhei Kōno, where the Japanese government officially acknowledged the issue. Later in the session, Abe stated his belief that Class A war criminals are not criminals under Japan's domestic law.
In a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee in February 2006, Shinzō Abe said, "There is a problem as to how to define aggressive wars; we cannot say it is decided academically", and "It is not the business of the government to decide how to define the last world war. I think we have to wait for the estimation of historians". However, on a TV program in July 2006 he denied that Manchukuo was a puppet state.
Abe published a book called Toward a Beautiful Nation (美しい国へ Utsukushii kuni e) in July 2006, which became a bestseller in Japan. The Korean and Chinese governments, as well as noted academics and commentators, have voiced concern about Abe's historical views.
In March 2007, in response to a United States Congress resolution by Mike Honda, Abe denied any government coercion in the recruitment of comfort women during World War II, in line with a statement made almost ten years before on the same issue, in which Abe voiced his opposition to the inclusion of the subject of military prostitution in several school textbooks and then denied any coercion in the "narrow" sense of the word, environmental factors notwithstanding. This statement provoked negative reactions in Asian and western countries; a New York Times editorial on 6 March 2007 commented for instance:
What part of 'Japanese Army sex slaves' does Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for? ... These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army's involvement is documented in the government's own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993 ... Yesterday, [Abe] grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi-apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn't the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. [South] Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.
A 2007 Washington Post editorial, "Shinzo Abe's Double Talk", also criticized him: "he's passionate about Japanese victims of North Korea—and blind to Japan's own war crimes". In The New York Times in 2014, an editorial called Abe a "nationalist" who is a profound threat to American–Japanese relations, and an opinion piece labeled Abe's position on the subject of comfort women a "war on truth". The same editorial presented him as a revisionist, a view largely accepted by the international and part of the Japanese press. Writing in the London Review of Books, political scientist Edward Luttwak called Abe a "pragmatic Japanese Tory driving through reforms at home, while weaving an alliance aimed at containing China."
In a speech to LDP lawmakers in Tokyo on 8 March 2019, Steve Bannon said that “Prime Minister Abe is a great hero to the grassroots, the populist, and the nationalist movement throughout the world.” According to Bannon, Abe was the first nationalist leader to win an election in an industrialized democracy and successfully govern as a nationalist." “Prime Minister Abe was Trump before Trump,” Bannon declared, eliciting laughter from some LDP lawmakers.
Response to mass media
The Asahi Shimbun also accused Abe and Shōichi Nakagawa of censoring a 2001 NHK program concerning "The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal". The "tribunal" was a private committee to adjudicate comfort women; about 5,000 people, including 64 victims from Japan and abroad, attended. The committee members, who claimed to be specialists of international law, claimed that Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government were responsible for the use of comfort women. The TV program, however, did not mention the full name of the tribunal and key words such as "Japanese troops" or "sexual slavery", and it also cut the sight of the tribunal, the host grouping, statements of the organizer, and the judgement itself. Instead, it presented criticism against the tribunal by a right-wing academic and his statement that "there was no abduction of sex slaves and they were prostitutes".
On the day following the Asahi Shimbun report, Akira Nagai, the chief producer and primary person responsible for the program, held a press conference and ensured the report of the Asahi Shimbun. Abe stated that the content "had to be broadcast from a neutral point of view" and "what I did is not to give political pressure". Abe said, "It was a political terrorism by Asahi Shimbun and it was tremendously clear that they had intention to inhume me and Mr. Nakagawa politically, and it is also clear that it was complete fabrication." He also characterized the tribunal as a "mock trial" and raised objection to the presence of North Korean prosecutors, singling them out as agents of North Korean government. Abe's actions in the NHK incident have been criticized as being both illegal (violating the Broadcast Law) and unconstitutional (violating the Japanese Constitution).
A news program aired on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) on 21 July 2006 about a secret biological weapons troop of Imperial Japanese Army called Unit 731, along with a picture panel of Shinzō Abe, who has no relation to the report. Abe said in a press conference, "It is a truly big problem if they want to injure my political life". The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications inquired into fact relevance and stated that there had been an omission in editing the TV program fairly, making an administrative direction of exceptional stringent warning based upon Broadcast Law.
On 24 October 2006, a report emerged that Abe's new administration had called on the NHK to "pay attention" to the North Korean abductees issue. Critics, some even within Abe's own LDP party, charged that the government was violating freedom of expression by meddling in the affairs of the public broadcaster.
In December 2006, it was revealed that former Prime-Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government, in which Abe was Chief Cabinet Secretary, had influenced town hall style meetings, during which paid performers would ask government officials favorable questions.
On 22 November 2012, it was reported that TBS early morning TV show "Asazuba" accidentally displayed Abe's photo alongside a news report about an NHK announcer's arrest for a sex offense. Abe's face filled viewers' screens along with the name of NHK announcer Takeshige Morimoto, who anchors NHK's "Ohayo Nippon" program on Saturday and Sunday. Morimoto was arrested for allegedly groping a woman on the train. Abe posted on his public Facebook page "This morning on the TBS show 'Asazuba,' when a newscaster reported on a story regarding the apprehension of a molester, a photo of me was shown. Images of this blunder can now be seen clearly across the Internet, Have the slander campaigns already begun!? If this were merely an accident, it would be proper for the TV station to give me a personal apology, but as yet I haven't heard a single word." The newscaster acknowledged that the incorrect image had been displayed, but merely stated that the photo was "unrelated" and did not refer to the politician by name. Neither Abe nor his office have received any form of apology.
Abe has visited Yasukuni Shrine on several occasions. While serving as Chief Cabinet Secretary in the government of Junichiro Koizumi, he visited in April 2006, prompting South Korea to describe the trip as "regrettable". He visited again on 15 August 2012, the anniversary of the end of World War II, and after winning the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party, he visited on 17 October 2012 in an official capacity as party president.
He initially refrained from visiting the shrine as a sitting Prime Minister. He did not visit at all during his first term from September 2006 to September 2007, unlike his predecessor Koizumi, who had visited yearly while in office. Abe's not visiting the shrine prompted a Japanese nationalist named Yoshihiro Tanjo to cut off his own little finger in protest and mail it to the LDP. While campaigning for the presidency of the LDP in 2012, Abe said that he regretted not visiting the shrine while Prime Minister. He again refrained from visiting the shrine during the first year of his second stint as Prime Minister in consideration for improving relations with China and Korea, whose leaders refused to meet with Abe during this time. He said on 9 December 2013 that "it is natural that we should express our feelings of respect to the war dead who sacrificed their lives for the nation ... but it is my thinking that we should avoid making [Yasukuni visits] political and diplomatic issues". In lieu of visiting, Abe sent ritual offerings to the shrine for festivals in April and October 2013, as well as the anniversary of the end of World War II in August 2013.
His first visit to the shrine as Prime Minister took place on 26 December 2013, the first anniversary of his second term in office. It was the first visit to the shrine by a sitting prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi visited in August 2006. Abe said that he "prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace". The Chinese government published a protest that day, calling government visits to the shrine "an effort to glorify the Japanese militaristic history of external invasion and colonial rule and to challenge the outcome of World War II". Qin Gang of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Abe is "unwelcome by Chinese people ... Chinese leaders won't meet him any more". The Mainichi Shimbun argued in an editorial that the visit could also "cast a dark shadow" on relations with the United States, and the US embassy in Tokyo released a statement that "the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors". The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials urge Abe not to visit the shrine and pay homage to war criminals anymore. Public intellectual Amitai Etzioni of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, who was a child in Germany when the Nazis rose to power, has stated in response to Abe's visits, "Unlike Japan, [Germany] faced their past, came to terms with it and learned from it. Japan should do the same." Etzioni criticized Prime Minister Abe's visit to the shrine as well as what he refers to as Japan's recent "nationalist wave" in an op-ed for The Diplomat. On 15 August 2014, the 69th anniversary of the surrender of Japan in World War II, Abe chose to not visit the shrine, in what was perceived as a diplomatic gesture to South Korea, China and Taiwan. Despite Abe's absence, China and South Korea both voiced their disapproval at Japan's leadership as a large number of politicians, and three cabinet members, did attend the shrine to mark the anniversary.
Restoration of Sovereignty Day
On 28 April 2013, a new public event, the Restoration of Sovereignty Day, was held in Tokyo to mark the 61st anniversary of the end of the US occupation of Japan. It had been proposed by Abe in 2012. The event, which was attended by Emperor Akihito, was denounced by many Okinawans who saw it as celebrating a betrayal, and there were demonstrations in both Okinawa and Tokyo.
In 2015, Abe's government refused to admit refugees affected by conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Abe stated that Japan must solve its own problems before accepting any immigrants. Abe has favored short-term working visas for migrant workers to "work and raise incomes for a limited period of time, and then return home".
Abe's father Shintaro Abe served in the House of Representatives from 1958 to 1991 and was foreign minister from 1982 to 1986; he is the son of Kan Abe, who served in the House from 1937 to 1946. Abe's mother, Yoko Abe, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime cabinet minister imprisoned as a "Class A" war crimes suspect following the war, who by 1957 had become Japanese prime minister. His older brother, Hironobu Abe, became president and CEO of Mitsubishi Shōji Packaging Corporation, while his younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, became Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Abe married Akie Matsuzaki, a socialite and former radio disc jockey, in 1987. She is the daughter of the president of Morinaga, a chocolate manufacturer. She is popularly known as the "domestic opposition party" due to her outspoken views, which often contradict her husband's. Following her husband's first stint as prime minister, she opened an organic izakaya in the Kanda district of Tokyo, but is not active in management due to the urging of her mother-in-law. The couple have no children, having undergone unsuccessful fertility treatments earlier in their marriage.
Honors, awards and international recognition
Member Special Class of the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud, April 2007. ( Saudi Arabia) Grand Cross of the Order of Honour. ( Greece)
- Member First Class of the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa Order, August 2013. (
Bahrain) Grand Cross of the Order of Ivory Merit, January 2014. ( Ivory Coast) Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau, October 2014. ( Netherlands) Grand Collar of the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja 3 June 2015. ( Philippines) Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, 2017. ( Spain) Grand Cross of the Order of the Oak Crown, 2017. ( Luxembourg)
First stint (2006–2007)
Abe's first cabinet was announced on 26 September 2006. The only minister retained in his position from the previous Koizumi cabinet was Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who had been one of Abe's competitors for the LDP presidency. In addition to the cabinet positions existing under Koizumi, Abe created five new "advisor" positions. He reshuffled his cabinet on 27 August 2007.
- Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide on 28 May 2007, hours before being due for questioning in connection to allegations of misappropriation of government funds. He was replaced by Norihiko Akagi, who himself resigned on 1 August 2007 due to suspicions of similar conduct. Masatoshi Wakabayashi was appointed Agriculture Minister, which he served concurrently with his post as Environment Minister.
- Masatoshi Wakabayashi was appointed Agriculture Minister on 3 September 2007, following Takehiko Endo's resignation due to a financial scandal.
- Prior to Abe's administration, this post was known as "Director General of the Defense Agency". In December 2006, its status was elevated to ministry level.
- Fumio Kyūma resigned on 3 July 2007 for controversial remarks made about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He was replaced by Yuriko Koike, then National Security Advisor.
- Yoshimi Watanabe was appointed Minister of State for Administrative Reform upon 28 December 2007 resignation of Genichiro Sata. He served in this capacity concurrently with his role as Minister of State for Regulatory Reform.
Second stint (2012–present)
|Ancestors of Shinzō Abe|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shinzō Abe.|
| Chief Cabinet Secretary
| Prime Minister of Japan
| Leader of the Opposition
| Prime Minister of Japan
|Party political offices|
| President of the Liberal Democratic Party
| President of the Liberal Democratic Party
| Chair of the Group of Seven
| Chair of the Group of 20