The 'Quadfather': Shinzo Abe's legacy to Japan, India and a free and open Indo-Pacific

A photo from December 2015 of Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - When news of the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on July 8 broke and stunned the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was possibly the first leader to declare national mourning and have the Indian flag fly at half-staff throughout the land before blogging about his "dear friend".

The relationship between India and Japan is a long and amicable one; it suits either country to see the other rise because neither considers the other a threat.

Under Mr Abe, the relationship was transformed from being primarily one of donor and recipient into a strategic and economic partnership, Dr Aparna Pande, research fellow and director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington told The Straits Times' Asian Insider.

"For India, Japan is critical," Dr Pande told Asian Insider host Nirmal Ghosh.

"Japan is not just an Asian country, but an Asian ally or partner. Of the four Quad countries, India is closest to Japan."

India would like Japan to play a bigger role, not just in Asia but beyond.

"I believe one reason is because India has never seen Japan's rise as a threat, just as Japan has never seen India's rise as a threat," she said.

Mr Abe has been called "the Quadfather" for having championed the four-nation India-Japan-United States-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). He invented the idea of the free and open Indo-Pacific and envisioned a more confident Japan, free of the shadows of its past.

Under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was also Japan's longest-serving foreign minister under the late Mr Abe, Japan is set to continue on the same track.

While Mr Kishida leads a moderate faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and is therefore seen as more dovish, he has promised to double the defence budget to 2 per cent of Japan's gross domestic product within five years, noted Straits Times' Japan correspondent Walter Sim, who spoke on Asian Insider alongside Dr Pande.

"He has promised to acquire pre-emptive strike capabilities, which will allow the self-defence forces to make the first move and attack an enemy when they receive intelligence that an attack is looming or imminent," said Mr Sim.

Public opinion, with one eye on China and Russia, is moving in favour of that, Mr Sim added. In a poll by public broadcaster NHK, 37 per cent of respondents felt that revising the pacifist Constitution was necessary, 23 per cent said it was unnecessary and the remaining 40 per cent remained on the fence.

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Japan, despite its historical legacies, is seen across the region as a benign partner. Mr Abe, who as a nationalist was labelled divisive in some quarters at home and in the region, also proved to be an internationalist, stepping into the space vacated by former US president Donald Trump, after the latter pulled out of the carefully crafted Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

There is a sense in Asia that allies and partners should be able to take care of themselves, and Japan is viewed as dependable, Dr Pande said.

Japan's developmental aid and assistance is not tied to quid pro quo, she said.

"There's no elite capture, there's no taking over your port if you don't pay back a loan, so it's not seen as a problem."

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