SAN FRANCISCO -- The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shocked those who followed his career in the Bay Area. Those who had the chance to meet him on Friday reflected on the lasting impact he had around the world as well as on the local economy and culture.
Abe, 67, was shot while giving a campaign speech Friday in western Japan. He was airlifted to a hospital but died from his injuries.
Michael Auslin, a Distinguished Fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford, got to meet him both in Washington, D.C. and in Tokyo representing the U.S. during Abe's tenure as the longest serving prime minister in Japan. Auslin said Abe was a skilled politician who truly cared about different perspectives. He became the most consequential leader in decades for the country.
"He was one, in at least in my interactions with him, that never shied away from an actual intellectual debate," Auslin told KPIX 5 on Friday.
The first Japanese prime minister to visit Silicon Valley, Abe also spoke at Stanford University in 2015. The impact of that trip continues to be felt years later and will be part of his legacy for the Bay Area.
Japan is the fourth largest trading partner with the U.S. for imports and exports, according to Sean Randolph, a senior director with the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. He said that California imports and exports more with Japan than any other state.
Over 80 Japanese companies have a presence in the Bay Area today thanks in part to Abe. Randolph says he helped define policy and give the country consistent leadership that brought their economy into the 21st century as he improved their relationship with the U.S.
"He had a big impact on Japan, on Japan-U.S. relations, and a particularly a big impact on us here in the Bay Area," Randolph said.
Abe's effort to put the U.S. at the center of Japan's foreign policy was not only economic in focus, he valued American history and worked to restore the connection between Japanese Americans and their homeland.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Americans Citizens League partnered with the government for a Kakehashi program allowing hundreds of young adults to travel to Japan regularly so they could engage with the citizens, politicians, and business leaders abroad.
"Because of the efforts of people like Prime Minister Abe, we do have much better relationships between our two countries and that does impact how people such as myself are perceived," David Inoue, the executive director of the Japanese Americans Citizens League, told KPIX 5 on Friday. He is half Japanese and half Chinese.
Abe's emphasis on innovation among tech companies in both countries helped the U.S.-Japan Council expand its presence in the Bay Area. As someone who studied in California, the former prime minster valued young people visiting other countries and supported students traveling to Japan.
He was the first leader from his nation to visit Pearl Harbor and acknowledge that dark moment in Japanese history. He also encouraged diversity in business as a world leader. Contributions helping to grow the relationship between the U.S. and Japan in his lifetime and beyond.
"It was a call to action to many sectors to get involved in strengthening the role of women in the economy," said U.S.-Japan Council President and CEO Suzanne Basalla. "He treasured this alliance, but he knew it rested on the support of the people of our two countries."
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