Adhering to the legacy of Shinzo Abe would mean a strengthening of the Quad and the creation of a Quad Plus with the possible addition of France, Vietnam, the UK, Philippines and Indonesia, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
With the assassination of Shinzo Abe on 8 July, Japan lost its most powerful voice in favour of robust military intervention in defence of Taiwan, were that country to be attacked by the PRC. Any transfer of control over the island would be a deadly blow to the security not just of Japan but to every country backing a free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan’s most popular politician would have reacted not in the way Neville Chamberlain did during 1937-39 to the aggressive behaviour of Germany, but as Churchill from the start wanted the UK to take.
Shinzo Abe knew that the only way to avoid war was to seen to be prepared and able to inflict defeat on an aggressor, not to continuously conciliate it in the manner favoured by a section of Japanese politicians and businessmen. Whether the assassin acted alone and what his motives were, remains unclear. What is obvious is that the assassination of Abe removed from the highest level of policy formulation in Tokyo the leader who most clearly understood the danger posed by the effort of an openly expansionist superpower to resort to force wherever needed to establish its dominance in the Indo-Pacific. In 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud had been killed by Al Qaeda a short while before that collective carried out the 9/11 attack on the US.
Engineer Massoud had the popularity and the ability to stitch together a united front that, once it was assisted rather than ignored by the US, defeated the Taliban. After the Taliban was defeated in Afghanistan with air support, logistics and weapons supplies by the US, the Afghan nationalists who did so were subsequently unable to come together to run the country effectively in the way Massoud would have done. Shinzo Abe was the best wartime Prime Minister of Japan that the country never had.
Although there was no replacement for Massoud in Afghanistan, followed by serial errors committed by NATO in that theatre that ensured that GHQ Rawalpindi brought the Taliban back to life by 2006, there is need to have a capable replacement for Shinzo Abe in the eventuality of a kinetic conflict endangering Japan. It is now up to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to show himself to be the worthy torchbearer of the Abe legacy, and if not, for the LDP to replace him with a leader more in sync with the legacy bequeathed by Shinzo Abe to his party.
THE REBIRTH OF QUAD
It was while Prime Minister of Japan that Abe mainstreamed the concept of the Indo-Pacific, linking into a single entity the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Abe ensured that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) was brought back to health from the deep freeze into which then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia had consigned it in 2008, just months after taking over as Prime Minister. Former PM Rudd has relatives who are from the PRC, but it would be unfair to say that this was the cause of his lack of enthusiasm for the Quad, a concept that a successor Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, backed in 2018, soon after taking office.
President Donald J. Trump of the US had the previous year become an enthusiastic supporter of the alliance of India, Japan, the US and Australia, much to the displeasure of the PRC, although it must be said that the world’s other superpower had and continues to have a substantial network of sympathisers in the US who constantly sing the refrain that the PRC needs to be given more time in order to show that it is not the expansionist power that it has transparently become under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping.
OBJECTIVE ENQUIRY INTO SHOOTING NEEDED
During Abe’s tenure, the official spokesperson of the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had warned in Beijing during a briefing for the global media of a “bloodbath”, now that then PM Abe had “entered the path of militarism” by the then Japanese PM vowing to defend Taiwan against attack by the PRC. All the more reason why PM Kishida needs to ensure a comprehensive and objective enquiry into the actual motive and network behind the murder that was carried out by the trained hand of a brainwashed former member of the Japanese military.
This would be in contrast to the US, where President Biden began his descent into unpopularity by covering up for the PRC by refusing to give a conclusive account of how the Covid-19 coronavirus began its existence. This was done by Biden even while respected thought leaders such as Jeffrey Sachs along with many others were vocal that the pandemic was the consequence of a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Being perceived as wobbly on China marked the start of the descent into unpopularity of Joe Biden, who (unlike the Japanese PM) has a fixed tenure of four years. Those who know Kishida say that he is a man of honour, who would not cover up the truth about the roots of the successful conspiracy to assassinate Abe.
The LDP is expected to do well in polls in Japan, not least because of the sympathy wave created by the Abe assassination. In case this was planned in the first instance by those seeking a sharp turn away from the security and foreign policies that were put in place in Japan when Shinzo Abe was Prime Minister, this needs to be brought out rather than covered up in the manner that the White House investigation did about the origins of Covid-19. Its conclusions were no different from those favoured by Beijing. The sharp reaction of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping to then Australian PM Scott Morrison’s support for an impartial investigation into the origins of SARS-Cov2 is revealing.
Why would there be anger in the CCP resulting in a trade and diplomatic boycott of Australia at Morrison’s call for an impartial and expert investigation? Perhaps this may go some way to explain the caution of Joe Biden in matters concerning China, in view of the immense financial stakes that so many in the US have in continuing good relations with that country, something that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been striving hard to accomplish. However, security for a country trumps, or ought to trump, financial bonanza for a few, and those who know PM Kishida say that he would act the way Abe would have in not allowing considerations of commerce to override national security interests. We will know in time.
ABE SETS PATH FOR KISHIDA
There is a possibly erroneous perception in some parts of the world that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan has reverted to the pre-Abe policy of reflexively tailoring the policy of the Japanese government to whatever line is pursued by the US. This is doubly problematic, as under President Biden, US foreign and security policy has been tied to whatever line is favoured by the major European powers. Such a coupling of US policy with European desires (as distinct from interests) has been evident in Ukraine.
While Abe as PM sought to mend ties with Russia, even meeting Putin several times in an effort to wean Moscow away from its foreign policy coordination with Beijing. In contrast, Kishida was quick to impose sanctions on the Russian Federation. The repercussions of such sanctions are by now evident across the world, and have not added but subtracted from Kishida’s popularity. Among the consequences of Japan moving in lockstep with the US and the EU has been the loss of rights by Japanese companies Mitsubishi and Mitsui in the Sakhalin II oilfields, while those Japanese companies that are active in Sakhalin I, and which are partnering with Indian companies, remain free of trouble. Meanwhile, the US and the EU appear to be working overtime to give China a near monopoly over the immense natural resources of Russia. This would have taken place were Prime Minister Modi to have agreed to the demand (these days mostly articulated through accessible journalists rather than directly by western governments) to break off commercial ties with Moscow.
As a consequence of Modi holding firm in his determination to pursue the Indian interest, Japanese companies, including those owned by the state, are the beneficiaries in the Sakhalin I project together with ONGC Videsh. The expectation in capitals that are visibly not sad at Abe’s murder may be that Japanese policy will now turn away from the line the assassinated leader favoured to defend democracies in the Indo-Pacific against aggression. Should PM Kishida bring into his government more voices such as that of Sanae Takaichi and others committed to the Shinzo Abe line, misperceptions about him would get dispelled. After all, the expectation was that the new Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, would revert back to the Kevin Rudd line on the PRC. However, the first Quad meeting attended by Albanese put such fears to rest, and Kishida is expected by his supporters to follow the same path as Abe did.
NEXT STEPS BY JAPAN AND ALLIES
Adhering to the legacy of Shinzo Abe would mean a strengthening of the Quad and the creation of a Quad Plus with the possible addition of France, Vietnam, the UK, Philippines and Indonesia. That would be contrary to President Biden’s Europeanist desire to make NATO the security guarantor for the Indo-Pacific. This despite that institution’s shoddy record in each of the 21st century wars in Asia and Africa that it has been active in. Rather than revive memories of European colonialism through White House efforts at making NATO the keystone of Indo-Pacific security, what is needed from the US and its Quad partners and possible Quad Plus partners is more attention and resources devoted to the Quad itself.
The killing of Ahmed Shah Massoud did not prevent the rout of the Taliban in 2001 by those who had fought together with the felled leader, although subsequent errors made by NATO ensured the comeback of the Taliban in 2022. The assassination of Shinzo Abe at Nara is a wake-up call reminding countries in the Indo-Pacific that peace in the region and absence of threats to sovereignty remain far from assured. As had been predicted by this analyst at the start of the Russia-Ukraine war of 2022, every leader of those countries that are keeping alive delusions of reconquest in Kiev is paying a heavy political price.
Such is the inevitable consequence of the economic fallout of the strategies on sanctions adopted by Joe Biden and others who are ranged against Russia in Ukraine and the consequent steep rise in commodity prices and collapse of logistics. An additional factor is the disastrous effect of the war on Ukraine itself. President Biden has lost support even within his own party, which has begun to consider the White House and its policies a liability during elections. President Emmanuel Macron has lost his majority in the French Parliament to foes on the left and right, while Boris Johnson, the man who is even more of a cheerleader than Biden for the emotional rather than rational way that NATO is prosecuting the Ukraine war, is fighting for his political existence.
Visiting Volodymyr Zelenskyy multiple times is not helping the disgraced Prime Minister at all. Once winter comes, a similar fate may fall on Chancellor Scholz, who seems to act in a manner unlike an SPD leader, perhaps because of his longtime alliance with the CDU. Given the importance of his country in the security matrix of the Indo-Pacific, it is essential for the region that PM Fumio Kishida of Japan embrace the Abe legacy, now that the latter was assassinated for reasons that Kishida needs to relentlessly discover and reveal, including not just the motivation and support system but the manner in which an armed killer got within point blank range of the most consequential leader in Japan since 1945.