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Indo-Pacific

India to award Shinzo Abe second-highest civilian honor

Efforts to push for free and open Indo-Pacific recognized by Modi government

Then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, accompanies Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a bullet train factory in Kobe, Japan, in 2016. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

NEW DELHI/NEW YORK -- India will confer one of its highest civilian awards on former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the government announced Monday.

The 66-year-old Abe will receive the Padma Vibhushan -- awarded for "exceptional and distinguished service" -- in the field of public affairs.

The Padma Vibhushan is the nation's second-highest civilian honor, after the Bharat Ratana, which has gone to the likes of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. The Padma Vibhushan has been bestowed on only 321 people, including this year's class. Abe will be its second Japanese laureate, after former Defense Minister Hosei Norota in 2001.

Abe is known as the architect of the "free and open Indo-Pacific" concept, which the Trump administration later adopted, and more recently has inspired the likes of Germany, France and the Netherlands to compile their own Indo-Pacific strategies.

Abe spoke of like-minded democracies in Asia, such as India and Australia, coming together to form an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" during his first run as prime minister in the mid-2000s.

India was one of the first places where Abe discussed the new plan in detail. In a speech titled "Confluence of the Two Seas" at Parliament in August 2007, he said: "The Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A 'broader Asia' that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form."

"By Japan and India coming together in this way, this 'broader Asia' will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia," he said. "Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely."

Abe also initiated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, in 2007 with the support of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

After years on the back burner, the Quad has returned to the fore in Indo-Pacific geopolitics as a gathering of like-minded nations concerned about Chinese maritime activities in the region.

Abe is among the seven people named for the Padma Vibhushan this year, including the late Indian American physicist Narinder Singh Kapany.

Retired Bangladeshi Lt. Col. Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir, a veteran of his country's 1971 war for independence, will receive the Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian honor.

The Padma Awards cover art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, civil service, sports, and other categories. Winners are announced every year on the eve of Republic Day, which is Jan. 26.

The awards are presented by the president of India at a ceremony held around March or April. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind have approved 119 Padma Awards this year.

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