Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longestserving Prime Minister, who fell to an assassin’s bullets on July 8 while giving an election speech, was a close friend of India and shared a personal rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He stayed as Japan’s Prime minister from 2006 to 2007, and then again from 2012 to 2020.
Hailed as one of the most transformative politicians of the postWar era, Abe attempted to uplift Japan’s economy with his bold ‘Abenomics’ policies, strengthen the country’s military and counter China’s growing clout. Calling Abe one of his “dearest friends”, PM Modi said, “He was a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader and a remarkable administrator.” Modi penned an emotional piece for the late Japanese PM in which he recalled his first meeting with Abe and remembered memorable interactions between the two.
During his first stint as the PM, Abe visited India and addressed Parliament. During his second stint, he visited India thrice. No other Prime Minister of Japan has made so many visits to India. Abe was also the first Japanese PM who got the distinction of being the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in 2014.
Likewise, it was Japan, which Modi chose for his first visit as the PM, outside the neighbourhood. While Abe hosted PM Modi at his ancestral home in Yamanashi, the former Japanese PM was felicitated at a roadshow in Ahmedabad.
During his August 2014 visit, Abe delivered the famous ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ speech that became the basis for the Indo-Pacific concept, which is today one of the main pillars of relations between India and Japan.
It was under Abe’s premiership that the two countries decided to have a Foreign and Defence Ministers’ meeting (2+2). Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Motegi Toshimitsu and its Minister of Defence Kono Taro, on November 30, 2019 in New Delhi for the first India-Japan 2+2 meeting.
Abe had spelt out his vision of the ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ in his 2007 speech when the Quad was formed. In October 2017, as Chinese aggression grew, it was Japan under Abe that mooted the idea of reviving the Quad. The four-nation grouping was revived the next month. The ‘Act East Forum’ was also formed under Abe’s leadership.
During Abe’s visit in 2015, India decided to introduce the Shinkansen system (bullet train) in the country. To fund the ambitious Rs 1,10,000-crore project, a loan of Rs 88,000 crore will be taken from Japan and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will fund it at a low rate of interest of 0.1 per cent per annum. The loan has to be repaid in 50 years. Abe was present along with PM Modi at the foundation stone-laying of the first bullet train project in Ahmedabad in September 2017.
Reporting his death, The Guardian said, “Few other Japanese leaders in living memory have left as deep an imprint on their country as Shinzo Abe.” His imprint on Japan’s relations with India was no less deep!