- Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
- BBC correspondent from Tokyo
A week ago, world leaders went to London to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and now dignitaries are heading to the other side of the world to attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In Japan, the 1.65 billion yen ($11.4 million) state funeral has sparked a backlash in public opinion, with multiple polls showing that more than half of Japanese oppose the state funeral. Last week, tens of thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of the capital Tokyo, and a man set himself on fire near the office of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, demanding that the state funeral be cancelled.
But on the other hand, the state funeral has also attracted Japan’s allies around the world. US President Biden will not attend, but Vice President Kamala Harris will. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and their three predecessors will also be in attendance. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not attend the Queen’s funeral but will fly to Tokyo to pay tribute to Shinzo Abe.
Second post-war prime minister to receive state funeral
World leaders gathered to attend the state funeral, but Japan is full of opposition. What is the reason behind it?
First, a state funeral itself is not a normal event. In Japan, state funerals are reserved for members of the royal family, and only one politician (former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida) was honored after World War II, and that was in 1967.
Abe was given a state funeral in part because of the way he died, and Japan mourned him when he was shot at an election event in early July. Public opinion shows that he has never been very popular at home, but few would deny that he brought stability and security to Japan.
The state funeral for him also reflects his status, as he is Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, and arguably no other post-war leader had such a big impact on Japan’s standing in the world.
Abe “leading the times”
Kazuto Suzuki, a former Abe adviser and professor of political science, described Abe as “ahead of the times”. “He knows the balance of power is constantly changing, and of course the rise of China will upset the balance and reshape the regional order. So he wants to lead.”
Professor Suzuki pointed out that former US President Barack Obama established the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP) with the aim of bringing together US allies in the Asia-Pacific region in a huge free trade area. It was expected to unravel, but it didn’t.
Abe took over the leadership, leading to the more complexly named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It’s a terrible name, but it signals Japan’s willingness to play a leading role in the Asia-Pacific region. Abe also played a key role in the establishment of the Quad, which includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
led the militarization of Japan
In addition, Shinzo Abe drastically changed Japan’s military. He forcibly passed a bill in 2014 to “reinterpret” Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, allowing Japan to exercise “the right to collective self-defense,” which means that this is the first time Japan has been able to take military operations overseas with its US allies after the war.
The legislation was hugely controversial, and its ripples are still being felt today. Machiko Takumi, the tens of thousands who marched against the state funeral in Tokyo, accused Abe of leading Japan to war, saying: “This means that Japan will fight against the Americans, that is, to enable Japan to enter a state of war again, which is my responsibility. Reasons for opposing state funerals.”
Japan is a war-torn country, but it’s not just the memory of the atomic bomb that makes people angry with Abe. Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution expressly stipulates that the country “renounces the right to war”. If Abe wants to change this, he should launch a referendum to resolve it, but he knows he will lose, so he chooses to “reinterpret” the constitution.
“Abe is seen as someone who is not responsible to the people,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University. “Whatever he does, he violates the principles of the constitution, he violates the principles of democracy.”
Which country doesn’t mourn?
But for Abe supporters, all of this misses the crux of the matter. Before any other world leader, Shinzo Abe saw the Chinese threat and decided that Japan must become a key member of the US-Japan alliance.
Suzuki, a former adviser to Abe, pointed out that Shinzo Abe is very forward-looking. “He sees China rising and America pulling out of the region. In order for America to remain involved in the region, he realizes that we need to be able to defend ourselves.”
A rearmed and militarily capable Japan, in addition to being welcomed by Washington, is also supported by other Asia-Pacific countries, who are equally concerned about the Chinese threat. After Abe found partners in Canberra and New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a national day of mourning after his assassination.
But there is one place where Abe is not mourned, but instead constantly condemned as a warmonger and revisionist, and that is China. This may explain why Beijing sent Vice President Wang Qishan to London for the Queen’s state funeral, but sent a former minister of science and technology, whom foreigners had never heard of, to Tokyo.