TELL US MORE EXPLICITLY WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND, MR. PRIME MINISTER
Why did the police fail to prevent the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from happening July 8? On August 25, the National Police Agency (NPA) released a report on the results of its investigation into the incident and a review of measures for escort of VIPs going forward. Reading the 50+ page report, I could not help but feel my anger rising over how incomplete and shoddy the NPA’s summary was.
In its “Problems with On-Site Security” section, the report concluded circuitously: “The NPA cannot say that there was no possibility of preventing the incident in question, i.e., Abe’s assassination.”
The report also stated that, prior to Abe’s arrival at the scene of the tragedy for a campaign address in Nara Prefecture, the security section chief of the Security Department of the Nara Prefectural Police (NPP) came by the spot “by chance” and failed to regard as suspicious Tatsuya Yamagami (41), the suspected assassin who stood some distance from where Abe was to speak, although the police official did briefly catch sight of him. Because he admitted having seen a security gap there, he should have taken command and ordered additional measures on the spot, the report asserted, noting that “the possibility of preventing the incident would have been high” had appropriate measures been implemented at the time. Overall, the report gives one the impression that the national police are holding the local police responsible.
The report also had this to say about the four bodyguards assigned to protect Abe that day—three from the Nara police and Abe’s bodyguard from the Metropolitan Police Board (MPB) headquartered in Tokyo:
“None of these bodyguards saw the suspect approaching the scene…or was able to instantly recognize the first gunshot sound as that from the homemade firearm Yamagami carried with him.” This made it “very difficult to prevent the shooting.” The report also stated that the four bodyguards “should have noticed” the suspect walking up behind Abe.
We have all seen the video in which the bodyguards take virtually no action after hearing the first gunshot.
The report is supposed to explain the actions of the four bodyguards when the shooting occurred, but it only manages to repeat the same expressions time and again, such as: “They failed to notice the suspect approaching” or “They did not recognize the two loud bangs that rang out from the handmade weapon with which the assailant gunned Abe down.” “Therefore,” noted the report, “the tragedy was unfortunate but unavoidable.”
The statement that Abe’s assassination “is recognized as unavoidable” frequently appears in the NPA report. Each time I see those words I am filled with deep anger and disbelief.
The MPB’s Responsibility
Two assertions in the report linger in my mind: 1) The Nara prefectural police should ahead of time have filled the security gap one of its officials found behind where Abe was to stand to speak. (As mentioned earlier, I see the national police trying to focus on the responsibility of the local police); and 2) The four bodyguards at the scene, including one from the MPB, should not be held responsible, as the varied situations they confronted that day were complicated and unavoidable.
Allow me to call the reader’s attention to one important point the report failed to mention: it makes absolutely no mention of the responsibility on the part of the Tokyo police, which assigned one of its officers as the bodyguard to safeguard Abe’s security around the clock. The training of VIP bodyguards falls solely within the MPB’s responsibility. And yet, the report is devoid of any reference to the flaws in the security system adopted by the Tokyo police.
The first question I wish to raise as regards this point is whether it was right for the MPB to go by the book and assign only one bodyguard to Abe just because he no longer was a sitting prime minister. With the exception of an incumbent prime minister, any former prime minister is assigned only two bodyguards to serve him on a day-by-day rotating basis, i.e., only one bodyguard serving him around the clock, which apparently is what the regulations called for. The MPB will presumably maintain that rules are rules and this could not be helped. But what the police board failed to realize is that Abe was a high-profile and influential political leader. Certain liberal forces in Japan regarded him with intense hostility. That being the case, the police should have assigned a much larger number of bodyguards to protect him.
The report further noted that the NPA will bolster future protection of dignitaries, but one cannot but wonder why they failed to make that arrangement before Abe was gunned down. I think it mandatory to bring into question the MPB’s posture toward the protection of dignitaries.
Another pertinent point to pursue concerns the measures for emergency situations that I believe were clearly missing. Specifically, had the training of bodyguards—armed plainclothes officers known as SPs—or Security Police—been conducted sufficiently? The report repeats that the failure to protect Abe on the part of the SPs was “unavoidable,” but one wonders if the national police may not have been too lenient to fellow insiders within the Tokyo police. There is no question that the Nara police are responsible to some degree, but in my opinion the Tokyo police definitely must bear the primary responsibility.
Generally speaking, Japan’s police are believed to carry out their duties well. However, Abe’s assassination was a horrendous blunder that dumbfounded security experts around the world. And yet, the NPA report made no mention whatsoever of the responsibility of the MPB in its purportedly thorough investigation of Abe’s assassination. Without serious reflection on what went wrong in this incident, it will not be possible to shore up the NPA.
Because Abe’s assassin reportedly bore a grudge against the Unification Church, which allegedly had bankrupted his mother by soliciting exorbitant donations, the Japanese press has developed a frenzy of heated-up coverage of issues involving the church and its relations with the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP). From the perspective of crisis management, I believe Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should tackle this matter based strictly on how he himself really views the relationship. Should he allow himself to be swayed by the trends in public opinion, he will not be able to resolve anything.
Kishida should have a Diet committee set up to thoroughly investigate whether the church still engages in criminal cult-like marketing, or if the legislation the Abe administration introduced in 2018 toward relieving the victims of such marketing has produced the desired results.
Beyond that, Kishida should take pains in sorting out the relationship between politicians and the so-called “groups related to the Unification Church” the media is pursuing frantically. Among other things, his administration must clearly define in what specific ways these groups are “related” to the church.
Birth of Anti-Communist Daily
On August 26, Katsuya Okada, former deputy prime minister under the short-lived Democratic administration (2009-2012), was named secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. He immediately apologized for having once been interviewed by The Sekai Nippo (“The World Daily”), an anti-communist Japanese language daily suspected of being a Unification Church affiliate. Okada told a news conference: “I am terribly sorry about what I thoughtlessly did. I should not have agreed to the interview with that daily…At the time, I was ignorant of the relationship between the daily and the Unification Church…I can’t make any excuses for that and deeply regret what I have done.”
I asked the daily about its relationship with the church, and its spokesman told me that the daily was inaugurated in 1975 with a strong motive to defend the liberal regime against communist forces that were taking hold around the world. To prepare for their inauguration, they hired enthusiastic journalists from Japan’s five major dailies, the spokesman said, including The Asahi and The Yomiuri, and also from NHK (the Japan Broadcast Corporation). These journalists vigorously engaged in their editorial and marketing operations. It was Rev. Moon Sun-myung, the founder of the Unification Church, who argued for the need for an anti-communist daily. Shoichi Watanabe, a prominent cultural critic (1930-2017) said he was fully for the birth of an anti-communist daily in Japan but that he was chagrined that the daily was thought up by a Korean instead of a Japanese.
The spokesman explained further that the daily has had no capital relationship with the church since its inauguration and that its editorial content is not pro-South Korea, as is evidenced by the fact that it takes the stand that Takeshima Island belongs to Japan.
There appears to be nothing wrong with the daily’s relationship with the Unification Church in terms of capital relations or its editorial content. Why then, asked the spokesman, did Okada have to declare that he would sever his ties with it just because the media describes it as “a group related to the church”? The daily claims Okada’s declaration violates press freedom. Okada profusely apologized for his past ties with the daily, but such an apology should not have been necessary in the first place.
Kishida must learn that his “ability to listen to others,” which he is fond of emphasizing, will not alone enable him to serve as the prime minister Japan needs. If he plans to keep “listening to the voice of the people” interminably because he cannot make up his mind about crucial issues, Japan will continue to aimlessly drift. It is incumbent on him to lead the nation by putting forward his ideas and judgement more explicitly and resolutely.
Why was it that he recently decided to forego cabinet approval of a plan to request local governments and national organizations to fly the national flag at half-mast on September 27, when the government will host Abe’s state funeral? That decision by Kishida leaves the impression that he is afraid of public opinion. (Opinion polls show persistent opposition to the funeral. In one of the latest polls, 53% of respondents were against it. The public has been angered by revelations of ties between the LDP and the Unification Church, which Kishida is seen as having failed to sufficiently explain.) Why can’t he say straightforwardly that the government will be holding a state funeral for Abe in order to express the nation’s thanks to—and honor the stature of—this extraordinary political leader who made great achievements for Japan? No wonder Kishida’s support rates are plunging.
Abe never stopped fighting on, however unjustly he was attacked by leftwing media outlets, such as The Asahi. He trusted his own judgment. The grit that drove him to fight on, convinced that doing so would be good for Japan, led to the solid public support he enjoyed as prime minister over the years. A political leader must have firm convictions and a tender heart. Without these qualities, a leader will not last long.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #1,014 in the September 8, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)