Season 1: July 11, 2022

Comparative Connections Podcast Season 1, Episode 2: Abe Shinzo’s Indo-Pacific Legacy

Connect with the Experts

Rob York
Program Director for Regional Affairs
Brad Glosserman
Tama University CRS/Pacific Forum

Season 1, Episode 2 of the Comparative Connections podcast, featuring Rob York and Brad Glosserman.


York: Aloha, I’m Rob York, Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum and editor of Comparative Connections: A Triannual Journal of Bilateral Relations in the Indo-Pacific. Welcome to the Comparative Connections Podcast, brought to you thanks to our friends at Conversation Six.

The Indo-Pacific is still reeling from the shocking assassination of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Japan’s longest serving former pm, proponent of the “free and open Indo-Pacific concept,” the Quadrilateral Security dialogue and the CPTPP. To discuss Abe’s legacy of regional integration. I’m joined by Comparative Connections co-editor Brad Glosserman. Brad is also a senior adviser at Pacific Forum and visiting professor at Tama University’s Center for Rule-Making Strategies.

So Brad, without Abe Shinzo would there even be a conversation about what a free and open Indo-Pacific means today?

Glosserman: While Shinzo Abe has been a tireless advocate for the free and open Indo-Pacific, he wasn’t the first.

In fact, you can go back to the 1980s when Thomas Hayward, who was Admiral Thomas Hayward, who was the at that time what they call the combatant commander of the Pacific Command—now it is called the IndoPacom commander—was making the case precisely that his area of operation extended all the way to the Indian Ocean.

His successor, several years later, Harry Harris would argue that his ambit ran from Bollywood to Hollywood—polar bears to penguins—encompassing, I think, all of that space. So quite clearly you can see that there was in fact a great deal of or or a considerable amount at least of intellectual preparation and operational planning, that looked at an Indo-Pacific.

And I would note by the way as well that the President Obama’s “rebalance” looked very much or was based on a notion of an Indo-Pacific, although technically that followed Prime Minister Abe’s original articulation of the Indo-Pacific in his 2000 speech to India, or 2007 speech to India.

I would also note by the way that Admiral Hayward was an advisor on the advisory board of Pacific Forum until he passed away recently.

York: So with the changes and the ideas that Prime Minister Abe was instrumental in advancing, is it safe to say that he has changed the course of Japanese foreign policy for the foreseeable future even with him being absent now?

Glosserman: Yes, I think that’s a fair statement. Mike Green, who’s really one of the best observers in my generation of Japan, writes in his assessment of the foreign policy, which just came out that what we see from him was a shifting, if you will, of the, of the paradigm that until eight was the prime minister, you had essentially the Yoshida doctrine, which are Japan keeping a low profile of essentially eschewing its military obligations and development in favor of economic and larger diplomatic sort of processes and in fact, now with a baby, you’ve seen much more of a shift that is going to be permanent.

And you see that Prime Minister Kishida after the upper house election on Sunday said that he will be continuing Abe’s legacy. Prime Minister Abe I think very much has transformed, as the academics would say, moved the Overton Window in the way that the Japanese would think about foreign and security policy and essentially raising the profile of Japan and obliging it to do more both in its own defense, to be a responsible citizen and as well, a way of signifying to other countries that Japan is both a partner in terms of what it can contribute and in its need to have them work with Japan and work with Tokyo to defend both regional and global order.

York: I see. Well, in conclusion, I’d like to ask you, since Abe Shinzo’s death was the source of an outpouring, really, of grief from a lot of his regional partners in the Asia and here in North America—we saw greetings and condolences that were sent by Prime Minister Modi, by former President Trump, by President Biden, his partners in Australia, New Zealand Taiwan etc., we can definitely say that he was a statesman of a very certain stature on the world stage.

But what will his domestic legacy be?

Glosserman: Well, unfortunately, Abe was also seen…as you quite rightly note, I think the world saw him as a global statesman and there have been very few Japanese prime ministers that rose to that level and he deserves the recognition, precisely because, as you said, for providing a theoretical framework for thinking about the region, for his energetic diplomacy to raise Japan’s profile and to, as you noted, to resurrect the Trans-pacific Partnershhip, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on A Trans-Pacific Partnership after it was almost on life support after the US Pulled out domestically.

However, while he has some very powerful supporters, he is still considered a fairly divisive figure. He was, let’s face it, a conservative nationalist who enjoyed fighting. He was what I think, you know, we would call a happy warrior, if you will, and was quick in some ways to, in fact, really poke at his opposition, and he was very much a partisan.

And that that bled through. There will be in some ways, interestingly enough, his departure from the political scene will make it easier in some ways to push parts of his agenda because the successors won’t be as divisive as he was. Unfortunately, however, few of them have his experience nor his energy to be the advocate that he was.

So there will, there’s definitely a gap and we’ll see that play out in certain dimensions of domestic politics, but it will be a complicated legacy.

York: Great, thank you for that explainer, Brad. Thank you for joining us and thanks to all of you listeners for your support for Comparative Connections.