Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Leaves a Lasting Legacy in Laos

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Former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe
Former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

“If we were to unleash the abilities of every single person in Asia, and let them fulfill their potential, the resulting force would be truly tremendous,” the late former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, famously stated at the 23rd Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Japan.

This compelling statement captures the sense of a man who saw potential in Southeast Asia, and worked to build partnerships throughout his career to see it realized.

Leaders in Laos, along with notable figures from politics and business, civil society, sports, and cultural spheres have been paying their respects upon learning of the untimely passing of the late former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.

Abe paid visits to Laos twice during his tenure – first in 2013 when he met with then-President Choummaly Sayasone, and again in 2016 as Laos became Chair of ASEAN; he also regularly hosted his Lao counterparts in Tokyo.

And it was during Abe’s premiership in 2015 that the Laos-Japan relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership level.

Former PM Thongloun Sisoulith and Former PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo at the Mekong-Japan Summit, 9 October 2018.
Former PM Thongloun Sisoulith and Former PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo at the Mekong-Japan Summit, 9 October 2018 (Photo: Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet).

Famously visiting all ten ASEAN nations in his first year in office, coinciding with Japan’s 40 years of partnership with the bloc, Mr. Abe was keen to demonstrate that he and his government and Japan were committed to the region.

In fact, it was Mr. Abe who declared on occasions, including to reporters in Laos, that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the “growth center of the world.”

“Without the dynamic growth of ASEAN, there can be no growth of Japan,” he told Japanese and Lao media during his November 2013 visit.

“Increasing intra-ASEAN connectivity, and thereby further stimulating the flow of people, goods, and capital within the region will contribute not only to the countries in the region, but also to vitalizing Japanese companies doing business in this region, and by extension, the Japanese economy.”

He did so by highlighting the importance of economic corridors in the Greater Mekong sub-region.

Shinzo Abe also often spoke fondly of Laos, noting that many Japanese feel affection for the country during an interview with the Vientiane Times the same year.

Laos is “a country blessed with rich natural and cultural assets, and home to warm and kind people,” he said.  “Moreover, the traditionally friendly relationship that Japan and Laos have built over many years is a common and irreplaceable asset for the two countries.”

PM Thongloun (left) & PM Abe
Laos’ PM Thongloun Sisoulith (left) with Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. (KPL/ Pool)

Speaking to Lao and Japanese reporters at the end of a trip to Cambodia and Laos, he noted that the two countries were located in the heart of the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) and the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), key junctions connecting the eastern and western halves of ASEAN.

“Elevating the economic growth of these two countries, which joined ASEAN later than the other member states, is also something that is desired by ASEAN. The further growth of the two countries is expected to promote the significant development of ASEAN as a whole”, Abe told reporters.

“Japan will support infrastructure development in this region, as well as back up the expansion of Japanese private companies’ businesses in the region.”

Abe also worked to ensure Japan was contributing to shared ASEAN goals including poverty reduction, raising the standard of living, including health and medical services, mitigating domestic disparities in each country, infrastructure development, including roads and bridges for increasing connectivity within ASEAN, and the standardization of regional systems, including customs clearance systems.

Abe’s longer, second term as PM put Japan’s approach to its international partnerships in the spotlight when he met with his counterparts Lao Prime Minister, Thongsing Thammavong, followed by Thongloun Sisoulith.

“Japan considers human resources development as the most critical area, and stands ready to proactively consider supports in the area of human resources development according to the request of the Lao Government,” Mr. Abe said during his meeting with PM Thongsing in 2013.

Wrapping up his remarks at the 23rd Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Japan – attended by then Lao PM Thongloun – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his bold statement:

“If we were to unleash the abilities of every single person in Asia and let them fulfill their potential, the resulting force would be truly tremendous,” he said.

“This is the thinking that lies at the foundation of everything. Going forward, let us together make “Asia’s dream” come true.”

Japan’s contributions of expertise and funding for infrastructure and the development of Laos’ human resources under Abe have been well noted and appreciated in Laos.

Yet it was also Abe’s strong political standing at home, family ruling party pedigree and factional support from his own party colleagues in addition to the support of a majority of the Japanese electorate that certainly strengthened his position in pursuing his aims internationally, particularly in ASEAN and Laos.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greets Kualao Director, Ms. Dalaphone Pholsena, in Vientiane, 6 September 2016.

Among Japanese prime ministers, Abe was known to possess both strong convictions regarding his views of his country’s international role and also the domestic and intra-party support to push forward pragmatically in his pursuit of foreign policy goals and values in the international arena.

After resigning his PM role due to ill health, he remained a highly influential political figure in Japan and abroad, including in Laos.

His loss is will be felt keenly including at the very highest levels.

As the message of condolence sent to His Majesty Japan’s Emperor Naruhito from Lao head of state and Party Secretary-General Thongloun Sisoulith read:

“I am deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the sudden departure of the former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, on 8 July.

“I maintain fond memories of working closely with Mr. Shinzo Abe in the past to promote and deepen the relations and cooperation between our two countries, and the upgrading of the relationship between Laos and Japan to a strategic partnership.”

“I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding achievements and contributions of His Excellency Shinzo Abe, and on behalf of all the people of Laos, and on my own behalf, I extend my deepest condolences and condolences to Your Royal Highness and to the Government and people of Japan, especially to His Majesty’s family.”

“May Shinzo Abe’s soul rest in peace.”

The late former Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe
The late former Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe (Photo: Embassy of Japan in Laos).

A book of condolences for Mr. Shinzo Abe will be made available for those seeking to sign their name at the Embassy of Japan on Thursday, 14 July, 2022 from 9:00 to 16:00.

Visitors are requested to show their ID card when entering the Embassy.