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Shinzo Abe brought transformation to Japan that will last for generations


Michael Green is with us now. He's the former senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and as a staffer on the National Security Council under George W. Bush, he spoke frequently and worked frequently with Abe. Michael, welcome. You knew him personally. What was he like?

MICHAEL GREEN: Well, he was, as Anthony just said, a very consequential - I would argue the most consequential modern Japanese leader. He had a clear vision for Japan, one that both President Trump and President Biden adopted - the idea of the Quad summit with the leaders of India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. was Abe's idea, for example. On a personal level, he was a very warm person, very loyal to his friends, pretty hard on his enemies. He had an ideological edge. But those who knew him - world leaders, scholars, journalists - considered him a very warm and loyal person.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, most of us just see world leaders when they're making a speech or on television. We don't know what they're like out - off the podium, so to speak.

GREEN: That's right. And, you know, Abe's coterie, his supporters, were very loyal to him. He established when he was prime minister - the longest-serving Japanese prime minister ever - what you might call an American presidential style of leadership. He created his own National Security Council, like the American White House. He really put in place a top-down leadership style that was new for Japan. And he was able to do it because across the bureaucracy and in politics, he engendered real loyalty and real adherence to his vision. As he put it at CSIS 10 years ago, Japan is back, and his vision of putting Japan on the map geopolitically continues to be the mainstream view in Japan.

MARTÍNEZ: And how much of that, what you just mentioned, might be part of his legacy?

GREEN: I think his legacy is profound. There is no major political figure in Japan arguing for a different direction, other than tactical changes, from what Abe put in place when he was prime minister. And at a time when the United States, frankly, was a little bit unsure in our own footing - when President Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this major trade pact in Asia, Abe stepped in and kept it going and urged the U.S. to return. When the Trump administration was fighting with Europe at the G-7 summits, Abe was the peacemaker, bringing European, Canadian, American leaders together. He really stepped up to reinforce the international order, the liberal order that America helped to build, as China and Russia asserted themselves and as the U.S. was a little uncertain in its footing. And I think those who were in both the Trump and Biden administrations who worked with Abe's government will very much appreciate and remember that right now.

MARTÍNEZ: And one more thing at 30 seconds left, Michael, how would you say he transformed Japanese domestic politics?

GREEN: Well, his grandfather was prime minister and had a similar vision for Japan 60 years ago and was pushed out. Japan wasn't ready. But now Abe's vision of a Japan that stands up, that does more to defend itself, is the mainstream vision, and it's going to be for a generation.

MARTÍNEZ: Michael Green, currently CEO of the U.S. Studies Center at the University of Sydney - Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

GREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.