Xi condoles Abe’s death, hails contribution to ties

Thousands of Chinese social media users ‘celebrating’ death triggers debate

July 09, 2022 11:50 pm | Updated 11:50 pm IST - Beijing

A file photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, with then  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A file photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, with then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. | Photo Credit: AP

China’s President Xi Jinping on Saturday sent a message of condolence to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the wake of the death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Mr. Xi “pointed out that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made efforts to improve China-Japan relations when he was in office and contributed positively to this endeavour”, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that he “noted that he had reached important common understanding with Abe on building a China-Japan relationship that meets the need of the new era”.

“Xi also noted that he deeply regrets Abe’s sudden passing and stands ready to work with Prime Minister Kishida to continue to develop a China-Japan relationship of good-neighbourliness, friendshipand cooperation in accordance with the principles of the four China-Japan political documents,” the MFA said, adding that Mr. Xi and First Lady Peng Liyuan sent a message of condolences to Akie Abe, wife of the former Prime Minister.

Mr. Xi’s message on Saturday followed a day of wide attention on Chinese social media on Mr. Abe’s death. Thousands of messages posted by Chinese social media users celebrated the assassination, while one essay that expressed alarm and revulsion at those messages, and pointed to the impact of decades of anti-Japanese state propaganda, went viral before being censored on WeChat.

“The radical nationalism on show has damaged China’s image internationally and may complicate Beijing’s efforts to improve relations with other countries,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted commentators as saying, noting that many on Chinese social media saw Mr. Abe “as representative of a Japanese right-wing in denial about the country’s war crimes” and hit out at his visits to the Yasukuni shrine that includes honours for war criminals.

Chinese commentators were divided on the reaction with some defending the messages. Nationalist commentator Sima Nan who has a wide following online said, “If we express happiness, foreigners might say we are ruthless and lack humanitarian spirit… but we should do whatever we want.”

Others criticised the responses and said they had damaged China’s image abroad. “Hatred of the West and polarisation among Chinese over certain issues have existed in China for a long time, but the hostile comments over Abe’s death have greatly damaged China’s image,” one political scientist who did not want to be named told The Post. “It is very nasty. The whole world is grieving the death of the assassinated politician.”

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