Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2022.07.25

Shinzo Abe: A compassionate statesman, strategist and husband

A former adviser reflects on his days serving the late prime minister

the japan times on July 9, 2022

International Politics/Diplomacy

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a man I counted as both a powerful comrade and a friend, passed away on Friday just five hours after news first broke that he had been shot.

I have never been more shocked in my life. The suspect reportedly confessed that his motive was not a grudge against Shinzo’s political creed, although the truth is unknown.

Within half a day after the attack, I received a great number of emails from friends and acquaintances overseas expressing their shock of losing such a dear friend — a man who helped foster stronger ties with Japan and who also promoted a sense of security in a turbulent world.

Those messages convinced me how much Shinzo was loved and respected during his tenure as prime minister by many outside of Japan. In particular, I appreciated receiving heartwarming messages from friends who knew of the close relationship between Shinzo and myself. I hereby express my sincerest condolences to Abe’s family and share with readers what kind of human being Shinzo Abe has been to me.

A South Korean newspaper reported that “Japan was shocked by the news that Abe, who served as the country’s longest-serving prime minister and was the focal point of conservative and right-wing forces, had been attacked.”

The real Shinzo, however, was not a cold-blooded guru of the right wing. He was, in my view, not only a compassionate assistant to his father (former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe), a die-hard parliamentarian, a seasoned foreign policy strategist and a sound patriot — he was also, most importantly, a gentle husband.

A compassionate assistant

I first met Shinzo in 1983, when he was accompanying his father, Shintaro, on a visit to Iraq. I was second secretary at the Japanese Embassy there and in the depth of despair — because I failed miserably as an interpreter during a meeting between a senior Iraqi official and Abe’s father.

When the foreign minister departed, the only person in the Japanese delegation who spoke to me in a considerate manner was Shinzo, who was a political secretary to the foreign minister at the time. “Miyake-san,” he said, “thank you for taking care of us.” I will never forget Shinzo’s compassion and thoughtfulness in this moment.

Die-hard parliamentarian

Three years later, I became the foreign minister’s administrative secretary and the person who was assigned the seat next to me, to my surprise, was Shinzo.

His father, Shintaro, had aspirations to become prime minister, but he succumbed to illness before achieving that goal. Shinzo succeeded his father’s seat in parliament when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1993.

In nearly 30 years since, Shinzo has never been afraid of fighting for his cause. Whenever he found himself confronted by a difficult situation, he always accepted the challenge. This fighting spirit is the essence of Shinzo Abe.

A seasoned foreign policy strategist

Diplomacy was another of Shinzo’s strengths. Accompanying his father as political secretary, he had visited dozens of nations over the three years and eight months before he became a member of parliament.

His knowledge and experience in international politics and strategic thinking were unparalleled in the Liberal Democratic Party.

During the second Abe administration, I had the privilege to exchange views regularly with the prime minister on foreign policy, although I never really gave him much advice. This was because Shinzo himself was a politician with a thorough knowledge of politics and was already thinking strategically enough in foreign affairs.

A typical example is the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” that Shinzo promoted, which later became a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. “The Quad” framework for dialogue — consisting of Japan, the United States, Australia, and India — was also originally Shinzo’s idea.

Furthermore, he was also keen on cooperation between Japan and NATO, and it’s worth noting that the current Japanese prime minister was invited to a NATO summit meeting in Spain late last month. Shinzo’s diplomatic expertise has ultimately made Japan’s foreign policy “strategic” in the true sense of the word.

A sound patriot

The narrative and myth that “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has helped Japan move more to the far right” still prevails in some countries, but it is untrue.

There is no doubt that Shinzo was a conservative, but his conservatism was often a means of uniting various conservative camps within the LDP.

Shinzo, as I witnessed, was essentially a pragmatic realist. Shinzo simply attempted to shift the center of gravity of Japanese politics, which had tilted too far to the left, back to the center. Only those on the left see him moving to the far right.

A gentle husband

There is no doubt that Shinzo was a loving husband. Of course, a politician’s spouse is his or her most trusted political comrade, and it is natural for him or her to take good care of their spouse.

However, Shinzo was a man who had always protected Mrs. Akie Abe, no matter what difficulties or adversity she might face. I have witnessed him frequently attending Akie’s private gatherings, where he would greet guests with a great sense of humor.

For this reason, it is so hard to imagine the immense state of grief Mrs. Abe must be in.

Japan has lost too much with Shinzo’s sudden departure, as was the case with the second Abe administration that transformed traditional Japanese foreign policy since 1945 into a great diplomacy with a strategy and influence suited to the realities of the 21st century.

The loss of Shinzo is immense, but I am not too pessimistic. Considering that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida himself was the foreign minister who supported Shinzo’s foreign policy, the legacy of his diplomacy is fortunately likely to remain at the center of Japan’s diplomacy.

Ultimately, I would like to express once again deep gratitude to my friends and acquaintances around the world for their heartfelt condolences and sympathy on the passing of our former great leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.