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What Shinzo Abe's assassination means for Japan's political landscape

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We're going to turn now to James D.J. Brown He's an associate professor of political science at Temple University's Japan campus. Professor Brown, thanks for being on the program.

JAMES DJ BROWN: Thank you very much.

FADEL: Now, Abe, as we heard, was killed giving a speech campaigning on behalf of his party. He's the longest serving prime minister, a huge political figure in Japan. What does his assassination mean for the Japanese government and the country's political landscape?

BROWN: I think there are a very large number of implications. One of them is just perhaps the way that campaigning will be done in the future within Japan.

FADEL: Yeah.

BROWN: It's charmingly old-fashioned the way that politics works before elections in Japan. You have the candidates who just go out and do stump speeches on street corners, in front of stations. They're standing there with no real visible security, and they shake hands with ordinary voters, give speeches. I think all of that's going to change now - that there will be a sense that it is simply too dangerous, perhaps, to continue in that same way.

FADEL: I mean, that's probably why somebody was able to get so close to him, 'cause people aren't afraid of this type of violence in Japan. Abe's life taken suddenly today at 67 years old. What do you think his legacy will be?

BROWN: There are quite a few things. There are two you can look at - economics, foreign policy. But to hit on perhaps the biggest one, I think it's the visibility of Japan. I remember Japan in around sort of 2010 or so. Really, Japan was being overlooked a lot. Despite remaining such a big economy, it just didn't feature in the international news that much. There was perhaps the attitude that Japan's best days were behind it. And Abe, despite, you know, his many critics - he certainly put Japan back on the map. He was very explicit in saying that he was determined that Japan would never be seen as a second-rank country. And he really wanted to restore it to a place of prominence within international politics. Simply by remaining prime minister for so many years, he took some big steps towards that.

FADEL: Now, he wanted a more militarized Japan. He wanted to change the constitution. And did Abe succeed in achieving his political goals in the time that he served?

BROWN: In his resignation speech in 2020, when he had to step down due to ill health, he was quite explicit in saying that he hadn't achieved everything that he wanted. He wanted to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia, to resolve a hostage issue which has been lingering with North Korea and to revise the constitution. None of that he actually managed. But overall, he still had some really major achievements. Whilst he didn't revise the constitution, he reinterpreted it to allow Japan to do more to assist its allies in military operations. He also resurrected the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many people felt that that trade agreement was over after the U.S. withdrew, but he ensured that it came to fruition. And he's played a major role in promoting this idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific to encourage democracies to stand up to China.

FADEL: Professor James D.J. Brown of Temple University's Japan campus, thank you so much for your time.

BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.