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Shinzo Abe: Shrewd diplomat in for the long haul

Nationalist Abe has at times infuriated neighbours still scarred by Japan’s war-time military aggression and his stated dream of reforming the constitution to clarify the role of the military is viewed with deep suspicion in the region

TOKYO: Shinzo Abe comes from a long line of politicians but the hawkish nationalist is now poised to write his name into the record books as Japan’s longest-serving premier.

A shrewd diplomat who has cultivated relations with both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Abe has also cemented power at home and faces almost no political party opposition.

Groomed for power from birth, he is sometimes criticised as arrogant, but has also shown a self-deprecating sense of humour, dressing up as video game character Super Mario at the 2016 Rio Olympics to give a zany preview of Tokyo 2020.

As North Korean missiles flew over Japan, he was quick to realise the importance of keeping up strong ties with the US, which provides effectively the only line of defence for the pacifist country.

He famously visited Donald Trump in his glittering New York tower before the tycoon was even sworn in to the White House.

And he has also cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and tried to heal ties with China, while pushing a nationalist agenda at home.

At home, he saw off a surprising challenge from Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike to romp to victory in 2017 snap elections and proved remarkably resilient during weeks of scandal earlier this year that sapped his popularity.

Nationalist Abe has at times infuriated neighbours still scarred by Japan’s wartime military aggression and his stated dream of reforming the constitution to clarify the role of the military is viewed with deep suspicion in the region.

He visited a controversial war shrine in December 2013, sparking anger among China and Korea that had been past victims of Japanese aggression and a diplomatic slap on the wrist from the US, which said it was “disappointed”.

Abe, who turns 64 on Friday, has visited nearly 80 countries and regions and held hundreds of summit meetings over the past five years as he vows to engage “more proactively in diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map.”

He joined Kobe Steel two years after graduating but turned to politics three years later, destined for political office as the son of a former foreign minister and grandson of a former prime minister.

Building his political career by talking tough against North Korea, he became Japan’s youngest-ever prime minister when he took office in 2006 at the age of 52.

But he resigned after just a year, hit by scandals and debilitated by health issues.

In 2012, he made a shock political comeback, returning to office on a pledge to revive Japan’s economy with his signature “Abenomics” programme built on active government spending coupled with massive monetary easing and red-tape cutting.

He has said he was encouraged to seek a path back to power by reading a biography of Churchill entitled: “Never Despair.”

— AFP

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