The assassination of former Prime Minister (PM) of Japan Shinzo Abe is a tectonic event in terms global geopolitical and strategic consequences. He served as PM for nearly a decade, which is extraordinary by Japanese political culture. Euphemistically speaking in Japan PM’s change by the year. Even though out of office, Abe remained the most formidable, influential and consequential personality on the political landscape of Japan.
Shinzo Abe’s assassination is bound to have impact on the political culture and military bearing of Japan.
The political landscape of Japan has most critical bearing on strategically the hottest spot on the globe, i.e., the Indo Pacific region. Shinzo Abe had given new teeth to the Indo Pacific strategy through his initiative of Quad, an informal grouping of US, Japan, Australia and India, who have shared strategic interests in the region and given the growing threats and challenges posed by China.
It is more than 90 years ago, in 1930, that Inkui Suyoshi, the then Japanese PM, was assassinated. He assassins comprised a dozen naval officers. This assassination eventually sowed the seeds of militarism in Japan which reached its zenith during World War-II with disastrous unprecedented and unthinkable consequences after its defeat in the war. It took two atom bombs to wean the Japanese nation away from militarism.
Shinzo Abe’s assassination is bound to have impact on the political culture and military bearing of Japan. The political culture in Japan though fiercely contentious, was never hostile. Election campaigning in Japan has always been very personalized and informal.. Intrusive security is more or less absent. It is for this reason that Shinzo Abe’s schedule was published in advance and that too in detail. Now this may all change.
Shades of Violence in Japan
Contemporary Japan is not known for culture of political assassinations. Japanese society is extremely orderly and law abiding. There is a severe ban on gun ownership in the country. Gun licenses are given for hunting and other special purposes, after a grueling process of mental and psychological background checks as well as a written test. The contrast between the United States and Japan with regard to gun ownership is interesting. While between 100 persons in Japan there is one gun, in the US there are 120 guns per 100 people.
Ostensibly the Shinzo Abe’s assassin Tetsuya Namagami was impelled by a combination of religious and political motivations.
Notwithstanding law abiding nature of the Japanese society, there are mass targeting, driven by psychological reasons and religious motivations. Last Dec, just 20 km away from Nara, where Abe was shot, a mental health clinic was set on fire by a person named Rarimoto. The fire consumed 25 patients. The culprit himself had undergone treatment in the same clinic. In 2016,near Tokyo, a person working amongst mentally disabled stabbed 19 patients to death. The 30 year old killer confessed that his stabbing rampage or mass murder was engendered by his conviction that those who are mentally disabled and could not communicate had no purpose to live, he therefore killed to unburden the victims and the society.
Then in 1994 and again in 1995 there were two chemical attacks by a group named Aum Shirinkyo, which means Supreme Truth. Nerve gas agent Sarin was used in both the attacks. In the first attack in Matusumo to eight persons were killed and 500 were affected. A re-engineered refrigerated truck was used to disseminate Sarin aerosols. Nine months later the said group struck again, this time in a Tokyo subway, with even deadlier effect. 13 persons were killed and a thousand affected in various degrees.
This was a mass crime driven by a religious cult philosophy. The Aum Shirinkyo had borrowed elements from Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, prophecies of Nostradamus, and conflated these with yoga practices. It was rooted in doomsday belief with main imagery revolving around Lord Shiva. It believed in killings non- believers so that they did not accumulate any more sins and become liable for their bad karma. The founder Shoko Asahhara was virulently anti American and referred to the US ‘The Beast’. It can thus be deduced that the philosophical, spiritual and religious quest in the Japanese society is very pronounced. By corollary the cultural nationalism narrative is also very strong. Ostensibly the Shinzo Abe’s assassin Tetsuya Namagami was impelled by a combination of religious and political motivations.
Factors Impinging Japan’s Geopolitics
There are essentially five factors that determine the exercise of geopolitics and strategy by Japan, i.e. religion, militarism, China, Russia and most importantly the United States. Japanese cultural nationalism is a mix of religion, spiritualism and militarism.
The Unification Church has been an important feature in the cultural and political life of Japan.
Religious Factor. The motivation that has so far been purveyed for the assassination is the deep sense of anguish and anger of the assassin Tetusya Namagami because of Shinzo Abe’s profuse patronage of the Unification Church. Tamagami alleges that the said religious cult organization snares devotees in parting with unbridled donations and his mother was a victim, leading to extreme impoverishment of the family.
The Unification Church has been an important feature in the cultural and political life of Japan. The said Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by one Sun Myung Moon, the adherents are a therefore known as Moonies. To the followers Sun Myung Moon is a messiah like Jesus.
The Protestant Church in South Korea compelled Sun Myung Moon to relocate his headquarters in the US in 1972. In the US the Unification Church acquired considerable wealth and ownership of several newspapers including the Washington Times. Moon was even jailed for a year on charges of tax evasion.
To appreciate the phenomenon of Unification Church it may be rewarding to understand the theocratic framework of the region and its interplay with politics. Christianity started making inroads in 18th century and expanded rapidly in 20th century. It had to contend with Buddhism and the Korean folk religion ‘Sindo’. Folk religions have substantial influence in most countries of the region. But unlike its neighbour Japan wherein the folk religion ‘Shindo’ has strong moorings, Shintoism in South Korea proved to be relatively weak in its resistance to the assault by Christianity. Moreover Korean Buddhism had already been suppressed by the Joseon Kingdom which lasted for almost 500 years, i.e. from 1392 to 1897. Today Christians comprise 31 percent of the population I.e.18 percent Protestants and 13 percent Catholics.
As a way of redemption from life of sins and to enter into sinless life, the Unification Church con ducts mass marriages. The influence of the Unification Church on Japanese politics will be discussed subsequently.
The Japanese are extremely sensitive about their culture, that is why American missionaries could not make much headway.
In 2009 as many as 20000 couples got married in one mass wedding. The Japanese chapter of Unification Church carries the nomenclature of Family Federation of World Peace and Unification. The maternal grandfather of Shinzo Abe Nobusuka Kishi, who was Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 till 1960 was also associated with the Unification Church. Mr Kishi found immense political benefits in patronizing the Church because of heavy anti-communist bias and as a galvanizing tool for Conservative politics. The Conservative politicians served as bill boards for the Church. So religions and cults have been used as both internal and external leverages in Japan.
US Factor. The Japanese are extremely sensitive about their culture, that is why American missionaries could not make much headway. The YMCA missionaries linked Protestantism with Japanese nationalism in a very adverse way. They propagated that Jesus takes priority over Japan. After several failed attempts the Westerners could breach Japan’s wall of cultural nationalism when in 1854 an American, Commodore Perry at the helm of a large fleet landed in Japan. Japan yielded to the superior military technology of the US but that in turn engendered militarism in the country. A Treaty of Peace and Amity was signed between the two countries.
In 1860 Japan sent its ship Kanrin Maru to the US. During the same period the first Japanese embassy was set up in the US. For the next 35 years i.e. between 1865 and 1900 there was intense technological cooperation between the two countries. Then in 1898 the US annexed Hawaii and the very next year Philippines which was a Spanish colony. The two actions propelled the US as a world naval power. In 1905 the Japanese recognized the US control over Philippines and in turn US recognized Japan’s control over Korea.
This was in the wake of Russo-Japanese War of 1905 over Manchuria and South Korea spurred by the Russian quest for a warm water port in the eastern flank, as its port Vladivostok remained frozen for half the year. The Japanese inflicted defeat on the Russians in a very fierce war on land and sea. This was for the first time in modern history that an Asian power had defeated any European power. Thus the two main powers that emerged in the Asia-Pacific region were Japan and the US. This victory in a way further increased Japanese appetite for militarism and expansioism.
Between 1927 and 1937 there was unbridled militarism in Japan. The Japanese slogan of ‘Asia for Asians’ was becoming increasingly shrill.
The relations between the two countries began to waver after the Gentleman’s Agreement in 1907 which put an end to immigration of unskilled Japanese to the US, particularly California. From 1915 there were serious differences between the two countries as the US was dissonant with the Japanese strategic designs in China. Then there were differences over German mandates in China that were given to Japan after World War-I. Between 1927 and 1937 there was unbridled militarism in Japan. The Japanese slogan of ‘Asia for Asians’ was becoming increasingly shrill.
Japan eventually paid for this unbridled militarism by courting nuclear disaster post World War2.
Militarism. The assassination of Inu Kai was because of his confrontation with the military. Post assassination and till World War 2 there was little political control over the military. The original target of assassination was Charlie Chaplin who was arriving in Japan as the guest of Prime Minister Inu Kai. The assassins, 11 naval officers, wanted to provoke the US. They failed in their objective because Charlie Chaplin was out with the Prime Minister’s son to watch a Sumo wrestling match. Having failed in their objective they decided to kill the PM instead. Amongst many other grievances’ the military was extremely upset with the 1930 London Naval Treaty signed between the US, UK, Japan, France and Italy. This Treaty imposed restrictions with regard to tonnage, number of surface vessels, cruisers, destroyers and submarines each signatory could possess.
The naval officers who carried out the assassination got overwhelming support from the nation and they were let off with relatively light punishment, thus giving further impetus to militarization. Ironically, 90 years before a PM was assassinated because he was against militarization, and now Shinzo Abe a former Prime Minister has possibly been eliminated because of his pro militarization agenda
Post World War-2 US occupied Japan and presided over its post war physical, social and political reconstruction aided by UK, Australia and New Zealand. Gen Mac Aurthur led the effort. Under his leadership a new constitution was drafted. Japanese women were for the first time empowered with franchise. The constitution was written in English and then translated into Japanese. Article 9 prohibited the raising of military except for the purposes of self defence. However, as the Cold War grew bitter it threw up new geopolitical imperatives for the US. The urgent need was to contain the wave of communism which could only be accomplished by drafting strong allies.
The US-Japan strategic partnership and the nature of defence partnership has remained a contentious issue in Japan.
Thus the US was compelled to revise its policy vis-à-vis Japan. War time leaders were back in the reckoning. Accordingly, a US-Japan Security Treaty was signed. The Japanese people found the Treaty unequal and humiliating. There were protests against American bases. US Military Intelligence and later the CIA lent its weight behind Nobuska Kishi the maternal grandfather of Shinzo Abe. Kishi was a War Criminal Class A and yet he rose to be the PM in 1957. With CIA funding he could unite all the conservatives and thus the Liberal Democratic Party came into being. Between 1957 and 1960 the CIA kept the funding tap on to ensure that LDP maintains its dominance over socialists and communists.
To placate the domestic constituency in Japan a new US-Japan Treaty was signed in 1960.In this Treaty the US committed to defend Japan in case of attack. It also had a provision that either side could unilaterally abrogate the Treaty after ten years. Prime Minister Kishi considered this Treaty as a personal achievement. President Eisenhower was to visit US to celebrate the new Treaty, but sadly in those Cold War times the Left opposed it tooth and nail in Parliament. Eventually Kishi had the opposition lawmakers thrown out of the Parliament, and the Treaty was passed and ratified. To avoid embarrassment Eisenhower canceled his visit, and subsequently Kishi had to resign. The US-Japan strategic partnership and the nature of defence partnership has remained a contentious issue in Japan.
Shinzo Abe – The Architect of QUAD:
In view of the revolutionary change in the Japanese threat perception owing to the mercurial rise of China, Shinzo Abe had embarked on a more assertive strategic agenda. He can be deemed as the architect of Quad. This informal grouping comprising Japan, US, Australia and India had tentative beginning post Tsunami in 2004 at the behest of Shinzo Abe. It was somewhat formalized in 2007, but remained inert due to Australia’s apprehension of the impact of its relations with China.
The Chinese mouthpiece Global Times really exulted at the assassination. It treated it as an opportunity to ridicule Abenomics…
In 2017 Quad gathered steam, by which time the strength, influence and reach of China had increased manifold. There was thus pressing need for counterweight to Chinese strategic thrust, particularly in the South China Sea. In 2021 there was a formal summit of Quad leaders. China labels Quad as Asian NATO and considers it as an attempt by adversaries to contain China. South Korea may be the new entrant into the grouping and Vietnam too evinces keen interest. Therefore further expansion of Quad cannot be ruled out.
Why Was Shinzo Abe Targeted?
Probably in order to intimidate Japanese political parties and leaders the inimical powers wanted to send out warning against militarization and strategic assertiveness by Japan. Probably the agendas of enemies within had coalesced with enemies outside. Who is the culprit? Well the Chinese reaction to the assassination is a big give away. The Chinese mouthpiece Global Times really exulted at the assassination. It treated it as an opportunity to ridicule Abenomics i.e. economic reforms scripted by Shinzo Abe. The newspaper accused Abe of facilitating NATO entry into the region. Abe was targeted because he had positioned Japan strategically at a new level. Under his influence there was a fresh wave of nationalism in Japan.
In 2012 he had adopted a very tough posture with regard to Senkaku Islands. Under him Japan participated in the Dawn Blitz military exercise along with US, Canada, New Zealand and Chile. The fact that it was an amphibious exercise raised the hackles in China. He had taken quite a strident position on Taiwan. On one occasion he had said that while there are measures in air and maritime dimension to deter China, land attack on Chinese territory could also be contemplated as deterrence. He visited the Tasukhuni Shrine several times which the Chinese construe as provocation since it carries some names who China deems war criminals responsible for war crimes in China. PM’s in the past have avoided visits to this shrine as gesture of diplomatic goodwill.
Chinese Intelligence Apparatus
In 2013 the present National Security Adviser, Mr Ajit Doval had written a paper on “Chinese Intelligence-Party Outfits to Cyber Warrior”. The two main agencies of Chinese Intelligence are: Ministry of State Security (MSS), Ministry of Public Security and the International Liaison Department (ILD)controlled by directly by the President’s office while the Department of Military Intelligence is still undergoing changes post the 2015 transformation. Earlier the ILD’s mandate was to establish links with communist parties of different countries and leverage on them to promote China’s interests.
In the post Cold War era and with inexorable rise of China the spy network of the country became increasingly wide and elaborate.
Through these communist parties they engineered revolts and uprisings in target countries. This was the pattern during the Cold War. In the post Cold War era and with inexorable rise of China the spy network of the country became increasingly wide and elaborate. Subsequently it began to infiltrate political parties and organizations of different countries. It now serves as a tool for both alternative and subsidiary diplomacy.
The Chinese Intelligence has adopted the thousands grain concept for gathering Intelligences. Every individual, every office and every enterprise has the subsidiary responsibility of Intelligence gathering and Intelligence operations. China has 380 Confucian Institutes in 180 countries. It operates China Study Centers (CSC) to influence minds and penetrate the establishment and the people in the target countries. Neighboring Nepal has more than two dozen such centers. In Aug 2008, Rahul Gandhi and Wang Jirui of the ILD signed a MOU in Beijing in the overbearing presence of Sonia Gandhi and Xi Jinping. The MOU has been kept a secret from the Indian public.
It was during the same time that the ILD of China signed a similar MOU with the Jamiat-e-Islami of Pakistan, the mother of most jihadi terrorist organizations in Pakistan. Given that the Chinese Communist Party is a government in perpetuity in China, such MOUs amount to a clandestine partnership for ulterior motives. The ILD is a covert Intelligence Agency of China. The secret visit of Rahul Gandhi to the Chinese embassy during the Doklam crisis should be analyzed in this backdrop.
China may be desperately rooting for a regime in India which may be less disposed towards Indo-Pacific strategy and QUAD.
As the wealth and military prowess of China is increasing so are its capabilities to penetrate countries round the globe. With increase in political penetration in a given country the capability and propensity for effecting regime changes also increases. Regime changes are effected through money power and assassinations. All rising powers are given to such practices specially a totalitarian country like China. When very substantial quarters accused China for unleashing Corona pandemic as part of Biological Warfare, it was rubbished by China and Pharma apologists as conspiracy theory.
When China’s role in US elections was highlighted, the same constituency out-rightly rejected it as conspiracy theory. This proclivity of dismissing all omissions and commissions by the anti-nationals as conspiracy theories may cost India many Shinzo Abes. China may be desperately rooting for a regime in India which may be less disposed towards Indo-Pacific strategy and QUAD. It already seems to have some key Indian personalities in its pocket.