Shinzō Abe and the New Japan
A profile of the Kingmaker of Japanese politics, famed for his strategic acumen and lasting influence on the country.
Heir to a conservative political dynasty, Shinzō Abe entered politics burdened by high expectations: that, in ruling Japan, he would change it fundamentally. In 2007, seemingly overwhelmed, he resigned only a year after becoming Japan’s youngest postwar prime minister. Yet, after five years of reflection and reinvention, he masterfully regained the premiership in 2012, and now dominates Japanese democracy as no leader has done before.
Abe has inspired fierce loyalty among his followers. He has cowed Japan’s left by pursuing an ambitious programme of reflating the economy and strengthening the armed forces and national security establishment. And, on the international stage, he has staked a leadership role for Japan in Asia, a region being rapidly transformed by the rise of China and India. Abe’s stature has only grown in the age of ‘America First’: he has both taken steps to preserve an ironclad relationship with the mercurial US president, and has himself become an undisputed leader of the besieged world order.
In The Iconoclast, veteran Japan-watcher Tobias Harris tells the story of Abe’s meteoric rise and stunning fall, his remarkable comeback, and his unlikely emergence as a global statesman struggling to lay the groundwork for Japan’s survival in a turbulent century.
Tobias S. Harris is Senior Vice President of the advisory firm Teneo, covering Japan and East Asia, and a research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA. In 2006–7, he worked for a Japanese legislator. He’s written on Japanese politics for the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs.