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Explained: What Shinzo Abe, who had a special rapport with Narendra Modi, achieved for India-Japan ties

Shinzo Abe — one of the most consequential leaders of Japan in it’s post-war history — was Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, having served two terms from 2006 to 2007 and then from 2012 to 2020.

Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead on Friday. (Reuters)

Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister of Japan, has died, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK announced on Friday (July 8). He had earlier been unconscious and showing no vital signs after being shot at and wounded at an election meeting earlier in the morning. He was 67.

NHK said, “According to LDP officials, Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister, who was shot with a gun during the speech, died at a hospital in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture, where he was being treated.”

The assassin was identified by the Japanese media as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old, who was an ex-marine in Japan’s self-defence forces.

Abe — one of the most consequential leaders of Japan in its post-war history — was the country’s longest serving Prime Minister, having served two terms from 2006 to 2007 and then from 2012 to 2020. He announced in August 2020 that he would step down from his post following the resurfacing of a chronic illness. Abe, who was then 65, was due to be in office until September 2021.

During his time in office, Abe was a great friend of India, and a relationship that he invested personally in. He also had a special rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which came out on multiple occasions.

After Abe announced his decision to step down in 2020, Modi tweeted: “Pained to hear about your ill health, my dear friend @AbeShinzo. In recent years, with your wise leadership and personal commitment, the India-Japan partnership has become deeper and stronger than ever before. I wish and pray for your speedy recovery.”

On Friday, as the news spread about the attack on Abe, Modi tweeted, “Deeply distressed by the attack on my dear friend Abe Shinzo. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and the people of Japan.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe ride an open vehicle during their roadshow in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Express Photo by Javed Raja)

Transformation in India-Japan ties

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During his first stint in 2006-07, Abe visited India and addressed Parliament. During his second stint — during which he overtook the record set by Eisaku Sato, his great-uncle, of the number of days spent consecutively in office — he visited India thrice: in January 2014, December 2015, and September 2017. No other Prime Minister of Japan has made so many visits to India.

He was the first Japanese PM to be Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in 2014. This reflected his commitment towards an India relationship — he was being hosted by a government that would be facing elections in May 2014. As Japan’s leader, he was wooed both by the UPA under Dr Manmohan Singh and the NDA under Modi.

While the foundation for “Global Partnership between Japan and India” was laid in 2001, and annual bilateral summits were agreed in 2005, Abe accelerated the pace of ties since 2012.

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In August 2007, when Abe visited India for the first time as PM, he delivered the now-famous “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech — laying the foundation for his concept of Indo-Pacific. This concept has now become mainstream and one of the main pillars of India-Japan ties.
During his second term, Abe helped build the relationship further.

Prime Ministers Modi and Abe

Having visited Japan several times as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi as PM chose Japan for his first bilateral visit outside the neighbourhood, in September 2014. Modi and Abe agreed to upgrade the bilateral relationship to “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”. The relationship grew and encompassed issues from civilian nuclear energy to maritime security, bullet trains to quality infrastructure, Act East policy to Indo-Pacific strategy.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his supporters after an election campaign rally in Fukushima, Japan, October 10, 2017. (Reuters)

When Modi went to Japan in 2014, the Indo-Japan nuclear deal was still uncertain, with Tokyo sensitive about a pact with a non-Nuclear-Proliferation-Treaty member country. Abe’s government convinced the anti-nuclear hawks in Japan to sign the agreement in 2016. The pact was key to India’s deals with US and French nuclear firms, which were either owned by or had stakes in Japanese firms.

Defence cooperation and Indo-Pacific

While the security agreement was in place since 2008, under Abe the two sides decided to have Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (2+2), and started negotiations on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement — a kind of military logistics support pact. In November 2019, the first Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting was held in New Delhi. A pact for transfer of defence equipment and technology was also signed in 2015, an uncommon agreement for post-War Japan.

During Abe’s tenure, India and Japan came closer in the Indo-Pacific architecture. Abe had spelt out his vision of the Confluence of the Two Seas in his 2007 speech when the Quad was formed. It collapsed soon, but in October 2017, as Chinese aggression grew in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and India’s borders in Doklam, it was Abe’s Japan that really mooted the idea of reviving the Quad. In November 2017, it was revived as Indian, Japanese, Australia and US officials met in Manila on the sidelines of the East Asia summit.

Stood by India on stand-offs with China

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Since 2013, Indian and Chinese soldiers have had four publicly known border-stand-offs — April 2013, September 2014, June-August 2017, and the ongoing one since May 2020. Abe’s Japan has stood with India through each of them. During the Doklam crisis and the current stand-off, Japan has made statements against China for changing the status quo.

Infrastructure cooperation

During Abe’s visit in 2015, India decided to introduce the Shinkansen system (bullet train). Under Abe’s leadership, India and Japan also formed the Act East Forum and are engaged in projects in the Northeast, closely watched by China. The two countries also planned joint projects in Maldives and Sri Lanka among others to counter Beijing’s influence.

A leader India always missed

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Abe was a valuable G-7 leader for India, focused on strategic, economic and political deliverables, and not getting distracted by India’s domestic developments — much to New Delhi’s comfort.

Having hosted Modi at his ancestral home in Yamanashi, the first such reception extended to a foreign leader, Abe was feted at a roadshow in Ahmedabad. His planned visit to India in December 2020 in Guwahati, however, was cancelled due to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
When Abe announced he had decided to step down, a South Block official said his successor would “have big shoes to fill”.

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Quite befittingly, the Indian government in January 2021 announced the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second-highest civilian honour, for Abe.
Modi’s last meeting with Abe was on May 24 this year, when the Prime Minister met him on the sidelines of the Quad summit in Tokyo.

First published on: 08-07-2022 at 02:47:11 pm
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