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Obituaries

Former Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone dies at 101

Conservative leader remembered for reforms and friendship with Ronald Reagan

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone points out the autumn foliage to U.S. President Ronald Reagan at Nakasone's villa in Hinode, western Tokyo, Nov. 11, 1983

TOKYO -- Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, a conservative yet reform-minded leader whose impact is still felt to this day, died on Friday. He was 101.

As prime minister from 1982 to 1987, Nakasone promoted administrative and financial reforms, including the privatization of Japan National Railway, under the slogan "total reassessment postwar politics."

He also strengthened the Japan-U.S. alliance through his close personal relationship with President Ronald Reagan. The "Ron-Yasu" friendship helped the two sides navigate the trade friction that strained U.S.-Japan ties in the 1980s.

Nakasone was born in 1918 in the city of Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. After graduating from Tokyo Imperial University, now the University of Tokyo, he worked for the Ministry of Home Affairs and served as a lieutenant commander in the navy. After World War II, he entered politics and won a lower house seat in 1947, in the first election held under the current constitution.

He earned the nickname "young officer" for his bold actions and statements, arguing that Japan needed its own constitution, rather than keeping the one written during the U.S.-led occupation following Japan's defeat in the war.

Later, as prime minister during the Cold War, the perceived might of the Soviet Union prompted him to scrap Japan's long-held policy of limiting defense spending to less than 1% of gross national product. His national security strategy focused on enhancing sea and air defenses.

In 1983, The Washington Post reported that Nakasone said Japan should be like an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" in defending against Soviet bombers and controlling strategic straits.

 In this May 1, 2015, file photo, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone delivers a speech during the annual meeting on Japan's constitution reform in Tokyo.    © AP

Nakasone pushed for administrative reforms, including the privatization of key state-owned enterprises such as Japan National Railway, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation and Japanese Monopoly Corporation.

He won a great political victory in 1986, setting up a simultaneous election in the House of Representatives and House of Councilors for only the second time in the postwar era and winning a majority in both houses of parliament.

Despite forging positive ties with China and South Korea, his decision to pay an official visit to Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister sparked a backlash. The Tokyo landmark, which enshrines the souls of the nation's war dead including convicted war criminals, remains near the heart of historical disputes that still dog Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors.

Nakasone spent 1,806 days in office -- the seventh-longest term for a Japanese prime minister. After retiring as a lawmaker in 2003, he continued to speak out on issues including constitutional revision and regional diplomacy.

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