Asia

Profile: Shinzo Abe

  • 28 August 2015
  • From the section Asia
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at Abe's official residence in Tokyo on 10 March 2015.

Shinzo Abe, 60, became Japan's prime minister in December 2012 after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) landslide election win.

It was Mr Abe's second shot at the top job, after a brief term as prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

He was then Japan's youngest leader since World War Two - but he stepped down less than a year later, citing ill health, as support for his administration plummeted.

Under him, a raft of measures have been introduced aimed at boosting Japan's struggling economy. Ties with China, however, have been tense over territorial and historic disputes.

Early appeal

The Yamaguchi-born lawmaker, known as a right-wing hawk, hails from a high-profile political family. His father, Shintaro Abe, was a former foreign minister and his grandfather was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Mr Abe won his first seat in parliament in 1993. Appointed to the cabinet for the first time in October 2005, he was given the high-profile role of chief cabinet secretary.

When he became prime minister a year later, he was seen as a man in the image of predecessor Junichiro Koizumi - telegenic, outspoken and with a similar popular appeal to voters.

Image caption Mr Abe's fresh term as prime minister was secured when the LDP won the December 2014 lower house elections

But a series of scandals and gaffes harmed his administration, including the revelation that the government lost pension records affecting about 50 million claims.

A heavy loss for the LDP in upper house elections in July 2007 provided a catalyst for his decision to resign. He stood down from the post in September of that year.

Second chance

He returned to Japan's political stage in 2012, renewing his mandate in the 2014 elections, and is known for his muscular stance on Japan's defence, particularly in territorial rows.

He has pushed for Japan's right to collective self-defence, which is the ability to mobilise troops overseas to defend themselves and allies under attack.

This change in law is being debated in parliament and has been met with significant opposition from the Japanese public, who have staged vocal protests. China and South Korea have also opposed it.

Read more: Japan's (self) defence forces

Image caption Mr Abe's push for collective self-defence has been met with significant opposition by the Japanese public

He has also ruffled feathers by questioning whether women were forced to become Japanese soldiers' sex slaves in World War Two.

After taking office, he paid a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead including war criminals, angering neighbours.

China-Japan relations chilled over such issues, as well as the continued dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Read more: How uninhabited islands soured China-Japan ties

Ice-breaker talks with China's President Xi Jinping at the November 2014 Apec summit raised hopes of improved ties, but relations still remain far from warm.

Image caption Relations with China's President Xi Jinping (right) remain chilly

At home, Mr Abe put into place a series of measures known informally as "Abenomics" - monetary policy, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms - aimed at boosting Japan's long-stagnating economy.

The measures initially worked in boosting GDP growth in 2013, but later had more mixed results, due to a controversial rise in sales tax which shrank private consumption.

Read more: Could women help fix broken Japan?

To solve a labour crunch caused by a declining and ageing population, Mr Abe has tried to push for more women to re-enter the workforce.

But the campaign has had limited success, due to longstanding cultural norms where women quit their jobs after having children, and are deterred from rejoining the workforce because of Japan's punishing work culture.

Mr Abe's attempt to include more women in his cabinet also stumbled when two of them resigned in 2014 over scandals.

Read more: Japanese women at a crossroads

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