Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 67, was shot dead during an election campaign Friday in Nara. Abe was pronounced dead by doctors at the Nara Medical University hospital in central Japan at 5:03 p.m. local time. He was admitted to the hospital in a state of cardiac arrest and medical staff had failed to stop the excessive bleeding, informed doctors during a briefing on Friday.
Abe served two separate terms as Japanese leader for the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party — the first from 2006 to 2007, then again from 2012 until 2020. His second stint was the longest consecutive term for a Japanese head of government.
Abe will be remembered for boosting defense spending and pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in its 70 years history. In 2015, his government passed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar, pacifist constitution, allowing Japanese troops to engage in overseas combat — with conditions — for the first time since the Second World War.
Abe argued the change was required to respond to a more challenging security environment, a gesture to a more assertive China and frequent missile tests in North Korea.
During his term, Abe tried to improve relations with Beijing and held a historic phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018. At the same time, he made efforts to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.
After leaving office, Abe remained head of the largest faction of the ruling LDP and remained influential within the party. He has continued to campaign for a stronger security policy and last year angered China by calling for a greater commitment from allies to defend democracy in Taiwan. In response, Beijing accused Abe of openly challenging China’s sovereignty summoning Japan’s ambassador. Born on September 21, 1954, Abe’s grand father and uncle both had served as prime minister, and his father was a former secretary general of the LDP.
He studied politics at Tokyo’s Seiki University and the University of Southern California, but initially entered business, taking a position with Kobe Steel in 1979. In 1982, he became an assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Abe was first elected to Japan’s House of Representatives in 1993, at the age of 38. He held a number of cabinet positions throughout the 2000s, and in 2003 became secretary general of the LDP. Four years later, he was named the party’s president and became prime minister of Japan.
His first term was marred by controversies and worsening health, and he stepped down as party leader and prime minister in 2007. The end of Abe’s first term opened a revolving door in which five different men held the prime minister post in five years until his re-election in 2012. He stepped down in 2020 citing ill health.
Abe was a prominent figure on the world stage. He cultivated strong ties with Washington — Tokyo’s traditional ally — and attempted to build a personal relationship with former United States President Donald Trump, traveling to New York to meet the newly elected Republican President while former President Barack Obama was still in office.
During that ”unofficial” meeting in 2016, Trump’s first with any world leader, Abe hailed the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to “build trust” with the new President. He strongly supported Trump’s initial hard line on North Korea, which matched Abe’s own hawkish tendencies.
But as Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang tipped toward diplomacy, with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, The event in a way sidelined Abe.
No meeting was scheduled between Abe and Kim. However, in September 2019, the Japanese leader said he was still “determined” to meet him. Abe wanted to normalize ties with North Korea and ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but his focus was to bring some closure for the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s.
During Abe’s tenure, Japan’s relations with South Korea soured. The two countries were engaged in a major dispute in which trade and military intelligence deals were scrapped, partly due to the legacy of World War II and Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula.