Abe, Shinzo


Abe, Shinzo
▪ 2007
 The election of Shinzo Abe to the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Sept. 20, 2006, and, six days later, his elevation to the prime ministership of Japan marked the culmination of the near-meteoric rise of a “political blue blood.” While it took Abe's predecessor, the political outsider Junichiro Koizumi, 29 years to traverse the distance from first election win to the top job, Abe accomplished it in just 13 years. Abe had never led a government ministry; still, with the direct blessing of the popular Koizumi, Abe received a 66% majority of party legislators for the LDP presidency and the approval of 71% of the members of the lower house of the Diet (parliament) to head the government. At 52, he was Japan's youngest prime minister since the end of World War II.

      Abe was born on Sept. 21, 1954, in Tokyo, into a family of politicians and public servants. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was prime minister from 1957 to 1960; a great uncle, Eisaku Sato, also held that post from 1964 to 1972, and Shintaro Abe, Shinzo's father, might also have done so had pancreatic cancer not cut short his career.

      After graduation in 1977 from Seikei University, Tokyo, Abe spent two years studying political science at the University of Southern California and worked for one year for Kobe Steel USA in New York City. He returned to Japan and spent two more years with Kobe Steel before becoming executive assistant to his father, then foreign minister, in 1982. He won his first election and took over his father's seat in the lower house in 1993. He was made deputy chief cabinet secretary in 2000 and was promoted by Koizumi to chief cabinet secretary in 2005.

      Abe took over at a critical time in Japan's relations with its neighbours. Both China and South Korea seemed prepared to give Abe an opportunity to make a new start on the divisive issue of making official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where 14 Class-A Japanese war criminals are honoured, as Koizumi had done repeatedly, ignoring protests from Beijing and Seoul. Abe was welcomed on visits in those two cities on October 8 and 9, respectively. Abe, who learned of North Korea's first test of a nuclear explosive as he flew into the South Korean capital of Seoul, supported a UN Security Council resolution requiring UN members to impose sanctions on Pyongyang. He also imposed a separate set of Japan's own sanctions, including a ban on all visits to Japanese ports by North Korean vessels, and intensified Japan's demands that North Korea provide a full accounting of the Japanese citizens it abducted in the 1970s and '80s.

      Like Koizumi, Abe favoured strengthening Japan's alliance with the U.S., and he placed a high priority on rewriting the U.S.-imposed postwar “peace constitution.” Most voters, however, were more interested in seeing Abe's government shore up pension and health-insurance systems facing the rapidly aging society.

Sam Jameson

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Universalium. 2010.

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