Japan and its allies were shocked when an assassin killed Shinzo Abe, who previously served as Japan’s longest-tenured prime minister over two nonconsecutive terms.
Abe was a personal friend to one of us, taking decisive action even before his first premiership to align his country closer to the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Over two terms as prime minister, his instinctive pro-Americanism and vision for his own country would gradually but markedly shift Japan from a junior partner in a U.S.-led security alliance to an equal partner fully graduated from its post-World War II purgatory.
Abe was an early advocate of seeing the Chinese Communist Party as the aggressor it is and moving Japan to resist Beijing’s dangerous political, military and economic aspirations even before the United States awoke to the danger. This was no easy feat given Japan’s historical pacifism and China’s economic gravity. In so doing, Abe wrote his name prominently into the history of the Pacific, and on the pro-freedom and pro-security side of that history.
The motives of the assassin and whether he is linked to others are not clear at this early hour. Abe knew his people well enough to grasp that this act of violence will never alter their course of action or determination to preserve their unique culture and country. If anything, the act may gain additional support for the governing party, of which Abe was a part, in parliamentary elections this Sunday.
The response here in America was more varied. The assassin reportedly used a homemade weapon that functioned like a shotgun. President Joe Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to embarrass himself, using the occasion to decry “gun violence,” which is part of the progressive lexicon as the cities they govern collapse in violence. Would Biden have been happier if the assassin had stabbed Abe?
In a similar vein of lefty foolishness, NPR — derided as “Nicaraguan Public Radio” by its skeptics — described Abe in its breaking news as a “divisive arch-conservative.” First of all, it is rancidly inappropriate to attach any such labels to news of assassination. Would they have led with news of the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi as a “divisive arch-socialist hated in half of his fractured country?” Second of all, the slight is wrong: Abe was a center-right consensus-builder who unified his nation around a transition to an extent unusual in a democracy, which is, by definition, a polity that facilitates disagreement.
What probably bothers Biden and NPR is that Abe was the first major foreign leader to move decisively to cooperate with Donald Trump when he was elected president in 2016. Even before Trump took the oath of office, Abe made an unprecedented trip to New York to see Trump.
What motivated Abe was probably not a love for Trump’s populist rejection of the status quo or fundamentally un-Japanese braggadocio, but a sense that he could work with this man to make his country and America both better off. The outreach was reciprocated, with Trump counting Abe as his closest friend among foreign leaders — a first such instance in either American or Japanese history.
Trump looked around the world at leaders who could help America and, contrary to the foreign policy experts that came before and after his administration, knew that engaging people who could get things done in Asia and the Middle East was more important than hanging around in the salons of self-referential, feckless moochers in Europe. Trump complimented Abe upon receiving the news today: “Few people know what a great man and leader Shinzo Abe was, but history will teach them and be kind.”
As with any transitional leader, Abe’s tenure was imperfect and unfinished. Abe promised a “third arrow” of domestic reform to liberalize and invigorate Japan’s economy that never materialized. Friends of Japan worry about national debt that is even bigger than America’s as a percentage of the economy, high energy costs, rising taxes, and impediments to free markets.
And yet, Japan retains a culture that in many ways is enviable given the explosion of woke self-hatred throughout the English-speaking world, along with our social decay and violence. Abe’s assassination was so shocking in part because this type of violence is extremely rare in Japan.
What should anyone or any country do in the wake of a political leader’s assassination? The only thing we can: continue his struggle. Resist Chinese aggression. Seek peace in the Pacific through strength. Preserve what is best of our cultures. Fight as a happy warrior.
Stephen Yates is a former president of Radio Free Asia and White House deputy national security advisor. Christian a former State Department senior advisor in the Trump and Bush administrations.