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Chinese President Xi Jinping conveys 'deep regret' over sudden death of ex-Japan leader Shinzo Abe

·3 min read

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his condolences on Saturday for the untimely death of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, highlighting the assassinated leader's efforts to improve strained bilateral relations.

Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister since the second world war, was gunned down on Friday while making a campaign speech in the western city of Nara for parliamentary elections due at the weekend. His death has shocked Japan, where political and gun violence is rare.

"I deeply regret the sudden death of former prime minister Abe," Xi said in his condolence message sent to current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

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"Abe worked hard to improve China-Japan relations during his tenure ... he and I had reached important consensus on building China-Japan relations for the new era."

Xi added that he was willing to work with Kishida to further promote relations between the two nations.

Abe, 67, served two separate terms in the top job, including a near eight-year run from 2012 to 2020 - the longest uninterrupted stint in power for a Japanese leader in the post-war era.

Relations between Japan and China have been strained by territorial disputes in the East China Sea and grievances over Japanese aggression during World War II.

Tensions flared during the initial months of Abe's second term starting in 2012, as Beijing denounced him as "not welcome" to visit China after he paid tribute to the Japanese war dead in the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past military aggression as it honours convicted war criminals.

But relations warmed during the rest of that term, with Abe making a rare visit to China in 2018. Xi was expected to make a return visit in 2020, which would have marked the first trip by a Chinese president to Japan since 2008. But the plan was shelved because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even though Abe's attempts to amend Japan's pacifist post-war constitution had alarmed China, diplomatic observers said the bilateral relationship had become more stable under him.

However, Abe had been more vocal against Beijing since stepping down in 2020 over health reasons, including saying an invasion of Taiwan would pose a significant threat to Japan and the Japan-US alliance. Beijing dismissed the remarks as "nonsense".

The Kishida government has also called for increased defence spending and voiced concern over threats faced by self-ruled Taiwan. Kishida has also said he was disappointed by Chinese efforts to develop areas in the East China Sea, calling the moves "unacceptable".

Japan - along with South Korea, Australia and New Zealand - attended a Nato summit in Madrid last week, a first for all four nations. Beijing has warned against Nato expansion into the Asia-Pacific, saying it will only trigger more conflicts.

Xi's wife Peng Liyuan also sent her condolences to Abe's wife Akie, Xinhua reported on Saturday.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.