Former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo spent much of his public effort in the months leading up to his assassination on Friday advocating for defending the nation of Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion, outraging the Communist Party into threatening a “bloodbath” if he did not stop.
Abe served as prime minister for a year in 2006 and again from 2012 to 2020, making him the country’s longest-serving leader in that role. He resigned in 2020, citing a longtime struggle with ulcerative colitis that had also curtailed his first term in office, but he remained a prominent figure in Japanese and international politics in the two years following his second resignation.
Abe died on Friday after an assassin, identified as Yamagami Tetsuya, shot him twice with what reports currently indicate appeared to be a homemade firearm. Japanese media report that Yamagami confessed to the crime but claimed to not have a “political grudge” against the former prime minister.
Abe was the longtime leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has for years advocated for Japan to elevate its status as a defense power, including potentially establishing a proper military. Japan does not have armed forces – only “Self-Defense Forces” in light of its post-World War II constitution.
As part of his advocacy for Japan to elevate itself as a defense heavyweight, Abe had grown increasingly vocal in insisting that China invading neighboring Taiwan, a sovereign country that China insists falsely is a rogue province under Beijing, would be an “emergency” for Japan.
Under communist dictator Xi Jinping, China has grown increasingly belligerent on the issue of Taiwan, repeatedly threatening an invasion. Xi himself promised in a 2019 speech that anyone supporting Taiwan as a sovereign state would have their “bones ground to powder.”
Abe first appeared to return to political prominence in 2021 after some time in private life following his resignation. Reports in November indicated the former prime minister was planning to visit Taiwan to show support in person.
A month later, Abe publicly affirmed, “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency,” a mantra he would repeat often for what ended up being the rest of his life. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by promising a bloodbath.
“Anyone who dares to return to the old path of militarism and defy the limits of the Chinese people will face a bloodbath,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned in December.
#CCP promises dead-end or bloodbath for #ShinzoAbe as he dared to "talk nonsense on #Taiwan Issue".
In terms of "Militarism", the plot was set long ago. Watch:
Unifying Taiwan Begins with #Senkakus, under the Banner of Fighting #Japanese Neo-Militarismhttps://t.co/uswnjL0GKe pic.twitter.com/VheXj9VCuV
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) July 8, 2022
The Foreign Ministry’s official English-language transcript of Wang’s remarks omitted the word “bloodbath,” instead translating his warning as, “Those who dare to pursue the old path of militarism and challenge our bottom line will find themselves on a collision course with the Chinese people!”
Abe did not heed the warning. The former government head held a video conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in March, repeating the call for the world to defend the island democracy.
“Last year, at a seminar held by a Taiwan think tank, I said that if Taiwan has a problem, then Japan has a problem, and the Japan-US alliance also has a problem,” Abe told Tsai. “Of course, this was a way of expressing my own sense of urgency, and I myself advocated for the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The vast Indo-Pacific Ocean where Taiwan and Japan are located must be an ocean in which we can maintain freedom and openness.”
Abe asserted in a column published in April that Russia’s expansion of its eight-year-old invasion of Ukraine two months prior should be a call for the United States to abandon its policy of “strategic ambiguity” with Taiwan. The policy consists of Washington not formally recognizing Taiwan as a state or engaging in any military pacts with it, but selling Taiwan weapons and hinting that it would support the island nation in the event of a Chinese invasion. Neither China nor Taiwan have any certainty regarding how America would act in the event of a Chinese attack.
“Given the change in circumstances since the policy of strategic ambiguity was adopted, the U.S. should issue a statement that is not open to misinterpretation or multiple interpretations,” Abe wrote in April. “The time has come for the U.S. to make clear that it will defend Taiwan against any attempted Chinese invasion.”
“The human tragedy that has befallen Ukraine has taught us a bitter lesson. There must no longer be any room for doubt in our resolve concerning Taiwan,” Abe concluded, “and in our determination to defend freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the column at the time through a statement, by – bizarrely – China’s ambassador to Liberia, Ren Yisheng.
“The Taiwan question is purely China’s own affair and none of Japan’s business,” Ren wrote. “It is dangerous and futile for some people in Japan to mention Taiwan and Ukraine in the same breath and incite ‘breakthroughs’ in the relations with Taiwan.”
Nearly a month before his death, Abe again defied China’s warnings, issuing remarks in the Axios Outlook Symposium encouraging Western countries, especially America, to “create a situation in which China will relinquish its goal of militarily taking over Taiwan,” Taiwan News paraphrased.
“We must not underestimate their [China’s] efforts. Any infringement on Taiwan is an infringement on Japan,” Abe repeated.