Shinzo Abe, Giappone (Getty)

What is Shinzo Abe’s Legacy in Japan?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced his resignation coming as a result of his recently worsening health. Abe suffers from ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, and he apologized to the Japanese people for failing to complete his term in office.

This is not the first time that this has happened to the former Japanese prime minister. He resigned in 2007 because of his struggles with his ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition which he has lived with since he was a teenager.

Abe returned to power in 2012 and became Japan’s longest serving prime minister as of this year. He served as President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since 2012, a ‘catch-all’ party broadly defined as being to the right of the political spectrum. The LDP’s political inclinations are closely aligned with conservatism and Japanese nationalism.

Shinzo Abe Restored Economic Growth to Japan

Two of the former prime minister’s crowning achievements are restoring economic growth and increasing spending on defense.

Following his return to power, Abe announced in his 2013 policy speech to the Diet that economic revival and ending deflation was ‘the greatest and most urgent issue’ facing Japan. “Abenomics,” the term used to describe his economic strategy, consisted of the “three arrows” (an allusion to an old Japanese story) of policy.

The first arrow meant monetary expansion aimed at achieving a 2 percent inflation target. The second referred to a flexible fiscal policy to act as an economic stimulus in the short-term, and the third arrow was a growth strategy focused on structural reform and private sector investment to achieve long-term growth. He also wanted to achieve a budget surplus.

Abe Did Not Achieve All His Economic Aims

In 2013, the Japanese Government said that its country was expected to achieve nominal GDP growth of 2.7 percent that year, exceeding real GDP growth for the first time in 16 years.

However, in the second quarter of 2014, GDP fell to an annualized 1.6 percent from July to September, which resulted in a recession that year.

By April-June 2018, Japan’s economy grew at its fastest pace since 2016 because of capital spending rising more quickly than earlier estimated, with revised Cabinet Office data showing that the economy grew by 3.0 percent during that time.

Yet by 2019, Abe failed to achieve his 2 percent inflation target.

Abe’s Government was Crippled by Scandals

Also, in January 2020 Abe was forced to delay his aim of achieving a budget surplus until 2027 before the coronavirus further impacted upon Japan’s economy. This is because of the significant debt burden facing Japan, which is more than the size of its ¥551 trillion economy, and politicians have struggled to keep it in check due to spiraling social security costs.

Abe may not have achieved his budget surplus and inflation targets, but he can be credited with restoring economic growth despite a recession in 2014.

Under the former prime minister’s watch, defense spending increased by 10 percent after years of decline, and the Self-Defense Forces’ ability to project power abroad was expanded due to a reinterpretation of the country’s constitution in 2014. Mr. Abe kept his promise to bolster the nation’s defenses.

The Former PM Has Much to be Proud of

Abe’s final days in office were haunted by a scandal that occurred in December 2019. Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto was apprehended and left the LDP after being arrested for alleged bribery. By this point, the former prime minister’s approval ratings were suffering. His government was accused of favoritism and when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was accused of being slow. Abe also failed to reform Japan’s constitution.

The former prime minister will be remembered for restoring economic growth to Japan and for improving Japan’s defenses at a time when China posed an increasing threat to Tokyo. Sadly, Abe’s government became increasingly ineffective during his final days in power due to scandals and slowness. This proved how tired he became toward the end.

Regarding his economic and military achievements, Abe has a lot to be proud of.