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Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Has Been Assassinated. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 08, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, July 8th. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with breaking news from Japan. At this hour, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in critical condition and fighting for his life after he was shot Friday morning in Nara, Japan, while giving a campaign speech.


ROMANS: Abe suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and neck, collapsing on the street. Police arrested a man in his 40s on suspicion of attempted murder -- or the alleged shooter was quickly wrestled to the ground close to the scene, close to where he was standing. This appeared to be a handmade gun in the attack.

Officials say Abe was in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, after collapsing. He was airlifted to a hospital and right now is undergoing emergency treatment.

CNN's Blake Essig joins us from Tokyo.

Blake, what's the latest information on the former prime minister's condition?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Christine, shock and sadness really and overwhelming sense here in Japan, former Japanese prime minister, you played the video, he heard the gunshots. Shot twice in the chest according to the fire and disaster management agency, once in the neck.

The shooting happened while delivering a speech around 11:30 on Friday morning, local time here in the western city of Nara, several hours after the shooting, current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a press conference to update the world about Abe's condition.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FUMIO KISHIDA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): First of all, in the morning today, at nor prefecture, I received the news that the former prime minister was shot and is now in critical condition. Emergency operations are taking place to save his life. I pray that he pulls through.


ESSIG: Abe's brother and current minister of defense Nobuo Kishi also addressed the media, and to say that his brother is receiving a blood transfusion and to call the attack a front on democracy and suppression of freedom of speech. Moments after the shooting, NHK Japan public broadcaster says that the former prime minister was bleeding from his chest, in a state of cardiac arrest while being transferred to the hospital.

Witnesses say that Abe was shot from behind. He didn't collapse after the first shot, but they collapse after the second shot before receiving CPR. The suspect, a man in his 40s, has been arrested in possession of what NHK is describing as a handmade gun. Abe was there in Japan's western city delivering a stump speech for liberal Democratic candidates ahead of the upper house election, which is set for this Sunday, when the shooting took place.

Abe is, of course, Japan's longest serving prime minister. First elected in 2006 and then again in 2012 before stepping down in 2020, because of health concerns. Now despite stepping down, Abe remained a key player in Japanese politics, speaking very candidly about Taiwan, hinting at Japan's possible military role there.

That all being said, some of his policies and remarks have been viewed as controversial. Critics are saying that some of his policies operated outside of Japan's pacifist constitution, including revising the defense policy to allow for Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II. That all being said, policy aside, it really has been this overwhelming sense of sadness and shock across Japan, really around the world as a result of today's shooting, Christine, and again, keeping an eye on whether or not medical staff are going to be successful in helping keeping it alive.

ROMANS: Yeah, it's grim. It's a grim prognosis here. There's no question about that.

Blake, he was a powerbroker in his party and in politics of the country, even though he was no longer the prime minister. And I think that some people look at the campaigning, the video of his campaigning, if you can hear me, and it seems as though that in this country, I did not think you see a politician right out there in the fray maybe like that.

Tell us a little bit about this tradition of the politicians postwar being right there, very close to people, very accessible during campaigning.

ESSIG: Well, you know, Christine, I think for starters, there is not a big of a concern for the threat of violence for these former politicians.


And again, even though the former prime minister was controversial figure, the fact that gun violence essentially does not exist here in Japan, you know, probably plays into the role of the fact that you have these politicians just out there campaigning and interacting with the people.

There is also talking to some of my local producers here, kind of talking about the juxtaposition between what a U.S. president will have as far as a security detail and what a former prime minister will have, especially here it's private security. And in all likelihood, talking with my producer today, there was likely one or two private security detail there with prime minister, while he was giving that speech.

And again, you can see the video. People all around him, guns not being necessarily a concern, all playing a role into what has happened today. It's clear that the policies, that currently exist here in Japan are going to have to be re-visited in terms of what took place.

ROMANS: All right. Blake, don't go very far here because I know there is a lot of rapidly changing developments, we want to stay on this.

Joining me now for some context here, Josh Rogin, CNN political analyst and columnist at "The Washington Post".

And, Josh, I don't think that you can overstate just how shocking this is.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is right, Christine, the bottom line here is that these incidents of gun violence are so rare in Japan, because since the post-war period, began in the 1940s, guns have been basically outlawed. They are highly restricted, almost impossible to get a gun license. There almost no gunshots in Japan, which is why, you see this alleged attacker apparently had to make one himself.

Also, as you were just discussing, these incidents of political violence, also almost unheard of, in the Japanese context. You know, whatever policies former Prime Minister Abe had, the idea that he could stand in the middle of a small city in Kansai prefecture, a suburb of Osaka essentially, of relatively safe and benign area, be shot with no warning and provocation. It is just unprecedented frankly and shocking, and a deep wound to both the Japanese psyche and the political scene as we know it.

ROMANS: All right. Stick with me here, Josh, for a moment. We have more breaking news on this terrible story. I want to go back to Blake Essig for us.

Blake, what can you report?

ESSIG: Christine, unfortunately, just moments ago, Japanese public broadcaster NHK has confirmed that the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died as a result of his injuries being shot two different times earlier today while speaking -- delivering a stump speech in Nara, a city in western Japan. Again, we don't yet know the motivation of the suspect who is in custody. We are hearing lots of speculation.

But at this point, CNN has not been able to independently verify what the alleged shooter has told police about why he went after the former prime minister. That is something we will continue to work to confirm.

But at this moment, we were able to confirm, according to NHK, that Shinzo Abe, Japan's former prime minister, longest serving prime minister, has died.

ROMANS: Blake Essig, thank you so much. Let's take a little deeper look at who was Shinzo Abe, an ally of the United States, a powerbroker in his country and the region.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Japan's longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had big dreams of a Japanese come back. A come back marred by a series of setbacks.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Abe's greatest achievement. Japan spent billions, only to see the games postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. The games were a cornerstone of Abe's plans to survive a struggling economy, and transform Japan to a global destination.

Abe promised a brighter future, a future looking bleak after 2011's massive earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Abenomics was an ambitious plan to overhaul Japan's economy with stimulus and reform. It led to a record high government debt, failed to make a lasting dent in decades of deflation. Problems made worse by Japan's aging population and shrinking workforce.


Abe also tried to strengthen Japan's military, reinterpreting the nation's pacifist constitution, drafted after World War II. The move led to massive protests in the Japanese capital.

Abe's visits to a controversial war shrine angered his Asian neighbors. He was criticized for not making a new apology in the 75th anniversary of World War II, accused of trying to rewrite Japan's brutal wartime past.

Abe began fighting for more military power during his first time as prime minister in 2006. At 52, he became Japan youngest post world leader. Corruption scandals within his party caused Abe's popularity to plummet. He resigned a year later, blaming health problems.

Abe had ambition and roots in a powerful political dynasty, two former prime ministers in his family. Reelected in 2012, Abe declared Japan is back. He tried to raise Japan's profile on a global stage, developing allies and in Europe, India, and Southeast Asia, trying to mend frosty relations with China.

Abe made history in 2016, appearing alongside former U.S. President Barack Obama in Hiroshima and later, Pearl Harbor.

Abe was one of the first world leaders to form an alliance with Donald Trump, taken the U.S. president out for a hamburger in Tokyo.

Shinzo Abe leaves behind Akie, known as a vibrant and popular first lady, and his wife, of more than three decades.


ROMANS: Again, in assassination in Japan of the former prime minister, powerbroker and longest serving prime minister.

I want to bring in Selina Wang in Beijing. And I also want to bring back Josh Rogin, CNN analyst.

Josh, first, just your reaction?

ROGIN: Shock, sadness, both for the family of former Prime Minister Abe and for the greater family of Japan. It's a country that views itself as a family, and the people there have a deep sense of community, and I'm sure that they are all grieving right now. I send them my personal condolences.

As for former prime minister of, he is a man who leaves a long legacy. As just mentioned, a member of historic family, the grandson of a prime minister, son of a foreign minister, Japan's longest serving prime minister, two different stints, who despite some controversial views, was widely viewed both domestically and on the international stages as a strong leader who had deep pride in his country, and who rallied in Japan after a time of discontent, and deflation, soul- searching towards a -- a rejuvenation of sorts.

Yes, with mixed economic results, but with a strong sense of identity in Japan's emergence on the international stage as a country that believed in the things that we believe here in the United States -- democracy, freedom, human rights, world's based order, and a strong U.S.-Japan relationship. And I think that is part of the legacy that he will be remembered.

ROMANS: Yeah, overnight, just one after the other we were getting these messages of condolences from world leaders. No question here. They are all processing this information. Selina Wang, josh just talked about the U.S. and Japanese alliance, right? How important that was, that those strong ties, especially in the region, right?

This was seen as a move by the United States and Japan to strengthen their ties in the face of a rising China.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. That is one of the key lasting legacies, bolstering the tie with the U.S., in order to cope with increasing anxieties in Japan over China, and he really paved the way for this more hawkish view in Japan when it comes to China, experts tell me that even recently, Abe was behind the scenes, encouraging the current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to take a more aggressive stance when it comes to these security issues. Of course, you had that infamously cozy relationship with Trump. He

was able to maintain a sustained relationship with President Trump when other world leaders will and able to, regularly having phone calls, playing golf with him.

He also boosted ties across the Asian Pacific region, was a big proponent of the Quad alliance. All of this as a way to bolster their security allies in the face of growing aggression with China. Now, frosty relations between Beijing and Tokyo were already very intense earlier on in Abe's leadership. And critics say those ties between Beijing and Tokyo, well, they only got worse throughout his leadership.


He was a vocal critic of China. After he had stepped down earlier this year, he had urged the U.S. to abandon its policy of strategic ambiguity when it comes to Taiwan, saying the U.S. should commit to defending Taiwan. And in the event of a Chinese attack, that of course, no surprise was received with great backlash and anger from Beijing.

This is one of his critical lasting legacies. I want to mention, Christine, I was based in Japan before this. And I cannot overstate just how a towering figure he was in Japanese society, for the public, for politics as well. He had so much influence over members of the ruling liberal Democratic Party.

And this is really a moment that is shaking the national psyche in Japan, not just because of how influential he is, but because gun violence is virtually nonexistent in Japan.

This is a country of some 126 million people, and annually there are less than ten gun related deaths. The shock, the disbelief I cannot overstate it, Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, and the few shootings there are, usually criminal gang related.

Josh, let me ask you about what this says as a threat to democracy. The current prime minister, before the news that he was killed, but after the shooting said this was an attack on democracy in the country. He was campaigning for his party, four seats in the upper parliament, and that election is Sunday.

ROGIN: Right. Well, it is not clear this will have any direct effect on the elections. I mean, his party can only be -- had a majority for and controlled power for much of the post war period and is expected to do so.

But I think the point you made as it could, one he was not just a leader of Japan, he was seen as a senior statesman on the world stage. I covered Prime Minister Abe when he developed a good relationship with President Obama, and I covered Prime Minister Abe when he developed a good relationship with President Trump. Both of them in fact looked up to him as someone who had the

experience, the diplomacy, and dealing with this especially China and other countries in the region. They saw him as something of a teacher, and a guide post. That is not a traditional role for Japan in U.S.- Japan relationship, to be honest, that is not lost.

Of course, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shares many of his views, but the role that Abe played as a senior statesman, informally behind the scenes as was noted, was an important one. It represented an emergence of -- on the world stage, as a more internationalist actor, in conjunction with and focused on its core partnership with the United States.

Sure, some of that might be affected, but I don't see any big and it cushions that will be a departure from -- suffice to say I think right now everyone is just in a state of shock. I am in a state of shock. I'm sure everyone in Japan is in a state of shock.

You know, first, we'll have to process that shock, and the grief, the honor of the legacy of the man, then figure out what the fallout just a little bit later.

ROMANS: Selina, the legacy, we are looking at video of Abe with everybody from Teresa May, to Donald Trump, to Barack Obama, warm relations, Vladimir Putin, he was an elder statesman on the world stage.

WANG: He was towering on the world stage, and he was one of the Japanese leaders in recent history that perhaps did the most to increase Japan's profile, to increase its international presence, not just strengthening relations of the U.S., but across the Asia Pacific region. He was also divisive in Japan, partially because of his big push to bolster Japan's military, wanting to revise Japan's pacifist constitution. He wanted to convince the Japanese people that the neighborhood is risky, and they cannot rely on this passive-ism anymore.

He also will be remembered for wanting to restore Japan's military prowess, its economic vitality, wanting to restore national pride, but it is no surprise you are seeing this a flood of condolences from a national leaders because of just how critical he was in fostering those global ties.

So without Abe, this has a global reverberations. There has not been a leader in recent history with that same presence as Abe.

ROMANS: And for those of you just joining in, just to reiterate the breaking news, Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister Japan, was shot by a handmade gun by a man in a crowd, where he was campaigning for his party, and he has died in the hospital.

Josh Rogin, talk to us just quickly for a moment about this moment. You have the assassination of a well-known world leader.


In the U.K., the prime minister has stepped down. We have a war, a hot war in Europe.

It feels just bigger picture like a very, a unique moment here in the world. Am I right?

ROGIN: I share that feeling. There is a stance that the regular rules of the road are unraveling, you know, this pressure on democracy around the world has been mounting, and building in the sense that there are cracks in a lot of societies including our own.

In Japan, that country has been relatively immune to outwardly violent displays of that pressure until today. That has all changed now.

Having lived in Japan for many years, I never once walked down the street and thought that I could be a witness or a victim of gun violence. I'm sure that is why everyone in that street in Nara City thought today, none no one will ever think that again. That is a change that is sure to affect Japanese society in ways we cannot predict.

But as for the international connections, I don't think that we should speculate about any particular ties between what is going on in London, or Washington, and what happens to Prime Minister Abe, but sure, there is a lot of pressure on politics and divisions that are erupting in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of countries. And this is certainly a part and parcel of that trend.

ROMANS: All right. Josh Rogin, Selina Wang, thank you so much for your analysis and expertise.

We're going to continue to follow that breaking news out of Japan. The former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died. CNN's special coverage continues.



ROMANS: All right, breaking news, if you are just joining us, the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died after he was shot while campaigning, an assassination in Japan.

Let's go to Paula Hancocks live in Seoul.

He was an elder statesman in his country, though still rather young and very active in politics, just 67 years old, retired but still a power broker and someone who was close with world leaders and able to try to take Japan to a new place, try to strengthen its economy, try to build up its defenses which was controversial, and ambitious for him.

Tell us a bit more about his role in the region.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right. I mean, certainly, he was a very powerful figure, even though he stepped down for health concerns in 2020 as prime minister, he was still a very dominant presence behind the scenes. There was certainly a faction within the LDP, the ruling party that he was controlling, that he was a part of.

So he was still a very vocal part of Japanese politics. And he did have politics in his blood if you look at his family and his grandfather was prime minister has great uncle was prime minister's father was a former foreign minister where he really cut his teeth being a secretary to his father.

So this is really something he had been brought up to be a part of this political world. He was the youngest leader ever to be elected in Japan at the age of 52. In fact, he was the first Japanese leader that was actually born after World War II.

He had some very strong ideas of where he wanted Japan to go, the direction that he wanted the country to go. He was very assertive when it came to foreign policy, and you see that many of the international leaders reactions that have come out before he was pronounced dead. We're talking about the fact that he was a great figure. And also, many of them saying he was a close personal friend, showing just how many of these leaders that he had impacted in Australia, for example.

Apart from the prime minister itself, three former prime ministers spoke about him and said how they considered him to be a close personal friend. So it just shows how outgoing he was when it came to the region, when it came to the world.

Now, of course, that is assertive foreign policy was not appreciated by everybody. It wasn't appreciated by China. It was not appreciated by South Korea, for example. There were many historical issues between Japan and South Korea when it comes to, for example, the colonization, the former colonization of South Korea by Japan back in 1910 to 1945. There are still many residual issues that continue because of that, and Shinzo Abe was certainly a figure that was not always appreciated in this country when it came to that. The relations were not always particularly good either when it came to the leader here and Shinzo Abe in Japan.

But he certainly did have that very wide spanning outlook when it came to the foreign policy just the fact that he was for example the very first world leader that reached out and managed to get some kind of relationship with the former U.S. President Donald Trump. That is something that many world leaders were unable to do, unable to fathom. That is something that Shinzo Abe set out to do very early on.

The fact that his relationship with the United States needed to be closer, that was something he was very vocal about, and that is something that even now, even though he was in the back of politics, that he was still pushing -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, managing that relationship with the new President Donald Trump when much of the rest of the world was trying to figure out how to handle that. That was -- that was well-played politically, right, as an elder statesman having hamburgers with the president, playing golf in Florida with the president.