Mourners honor achievements of former prime minister / Diplomatic legacy must be strategically utilized

The fact that so many dignitaries from overseas visited Japan to mourn former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is something about which the Japanese people can feel grateful. We again express sincere condolences.

The state funeral for Abe, who was fatally shot in July, was held at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo, and flowers were offered by the 4,200 attendees from Japan and abroad.

Seven hundred foreign guests were in attendance, comprising representatives of more than 210 overseas delegations, including those of international organizations.

In addition to the fact that Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, the large number of attendees may have something to do with Abe’s visits to 80 countries and regions during his tenure as prime minister under the banner of “diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map,” during which he established amicable relationships with them.

Enhancing Japan’s presence

Many people also paid their respects at flower stands near the funeral site that were set up for the general public. This reflects the magnitude of the shock of the sudden and brutal death of a man who had the heavy responsibility of being prime minister for eight years and eight months, the longest period in Japan’s constitutional history.

After his return to power at the end of 2012, Abe worked on economic revival under the slogan of the “Abenomics” policy package. He did a great deal to stabilize a political situation that had been in turmoil.

It is also noteworthy that Abe enhanced Japan’s presence in the international community.

Abe paved the way for allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in a limited manner during a period of change in the international situation. His vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” is taking root in Western countries.

The Japanese government needs to take advantage of this legacy of diplomacy to further enhance Japan’s international standing.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been engaged in “funeral diplomacy,” meeting with the leaders of more than 30 countries who attended the state funeral. Kishida told U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris that he would continue on Abe’s diplomatic path, while Harris spoke of the significance of the free and open Indo-Pacific concept.

Russia has invaded Ukraine, and China continues to threaten Taiwan. Compared with the period during the Abe administration, the international situation has deteriorated further.

Concerning how to restore the international order and contribute to global peace and stability, Kishida must conduct more strategic diplomacy than ever before in cooperation with the United States, Europe and other countries.

Since the end of World War II, the only state funeral that had been held for a former Japanese prime minister was for Shigeru Yoshida in 1967. When former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato died in 1975, a “national funeral” was co-organized by the Cabinet, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and volunteers from the public. In recent years, “joint funerals” have been held on such occasions, for which the government and the LDP split the expenses evenly.

Freedom of thought

While there are many ways to hold memorials, it is understandable that Kishida chose to hold a state funeral for Abe to respond courteously to condolences from abroad.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, and the Japanese Communist Party criticized the state funeral, claiming “it violates freedom of thought” and “it’s unconstitutional.” However, the public was free to express approval or disapproval of the state funeral and to express condolences. Whose freedom of thought was violated?

Opposition parties say Abe’s ultimate legacy as a politician has not been determined. However, there are always disagreements about the evaluation of any historical figure. It is not something that gets settled over time.

From the very beginning, opposition parties have made unreasonable arguments based on the premise that they are against state funerals. It is hard to understand their attempts to stoke discontent in such a way. Their attitude also lacks consideration for Abe’s bereaved family.

At the same time, the government’s handling of the matter was inadequate. Ahead of what was to be the first state funeral in 55 years, the government should have taken every possible step, such as by giving a thorough explanation to the Diet about its decision at an early stage.

The fact that deliberations were not conducted in the extraordinary Diet session immediately after the House of Councillors election in early July may have given the public the impression that the government lacked an adequate explanation.

“Since state funerals do not restrict the rights of the people, they can be performed within the scope of executive powers,” Kishida told the Diet 1½ months after the government had decided on holding a state funeral in a Cabinet meeting.

Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, urged Kishida to hold a meeting with party leaders to discuss the matter, but Kishida, who heads the LDP, did not respond to the request.

Some opposition parties linked arguments against the state funeral to the ties between LDP lawmakers, including Abe, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, widely known as the Unification Church.

Security in spotlight

Efforts must be promoted to clarify the actual situation surrounding the Unification Church, separate from the issue of the state funeral. Specific measures need to be devised if antisocial activities continue. The ruling and opposition parties could cooperate in establishing an investigative committee in the Diet for that purpose.

The credibility of the police was in the spotlight at the state funeral. The tightest security measures were in place in light of the failure to protect Abe and save his life. With support from officers based across the nation, the Metropolitan Police Department mobilized 20,000 personnel, doing everything possible to check for suspicious objects around the venue.

The ceremony ended without a major disruption. It is hoped that the security measures taken this time will be reviewed again and utilized for the Group of Seven summit to be held in Hiroshima City in May next year.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 28, 2022)