BEIJING: The shocking assassination of Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who shaped a strong policy against China, on Friday evoked mixed reactions in this country with the government expressing shock and sympathy while netizens gloated calling for "champagne celebrations".
Abe, 67, was shot from behind in Nara in western Japan while giving a campaign speech. He was airlifted to a hospital but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was pronounced dead later at the hospital. Abe was Japan's longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020 for health reasons.
"China is shocked" by Abe's sudden death, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was quoted as saying by Japan's Kyodo News.
Zhao said that Abe "made contributions to promoting the improvement and development of China-Japan relations."
Earlier, in guarded remarks at the media briefing well before Abe's death was officially announced, Zhao said, We noted this unexpected incident and we are shocked. We are following the situation.
We hope former Prime Minister Abe will be out of danger and recover soon , he said, adding that China will extend sympathies to his family.
But at the same time, he parried questions on the adverse reactions in Weibo, akin to Twitter in China, where some netizens called for "popping champagne", making caustic comments over his strong policies towards China besides defence of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its mainland.
I won't comment on the remarks of the net users," Zhao said. He said China expressed sympathies with Abe's family and that this unexpected incident" shouldn't be linked with bilateral relations.
In a bid to tone down the bitterness over the strong policy pursued and advocated by Abe against China, including his campaign to revive the Japanese military citing China's threat, Zhao said, On what he did with regard to bilateral ties during his time in the office, we noted that former Prime Minister Abe once made contributions to pushing forward the improvement of China-Japan relations .
Taiwan, which China claims as part of its own territory, paid rich tributes to Abe, saying as one of the country's most unwavering friends, the former PM has been supporting Taiwan through the years while sparing no effort in promoting bilateral relations."
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen described Abe as not only a good friend of mine, but also a staunch friend of Taiwan's .
He has supported Taiwan for many years and spared no effort to promote the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations, Tsai wrote on Facebook.
The Chinese have a love, hate relationship with Japan. Historically, they fought two bitter wars-the first Sino-Japanese war, 1894-95 and the second in 1934-45, during World War II. It was called the Asian holocaust as millions of Chinese civilians were killed.
The second war resulted in the Nanjing Massacre in which thousands of Chinese were killed. Nanjing is a city in eastern China.
In recent years, the relations turned sour over China's expansive claims over the Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls Diaoyu islands in East China Sea. But at the same time, Japan remained the most favoured tourist country for millions of Chinese who swarm Japanese cities every year.
Initially, Abe pushed forward with a policy to improve ties with China and met President Xi Jinping in 2014 during his visit to Beijing to take part in the APEC summit followed by another in 2019 at the G-20 summit in Osaka in Japan. But later, he became a vocal critic of China, calling on Beijing to avoid antagonising other nations and stop demanding more territory from its neighbours.
Abe also deepened strategic partnerships with India, Vietnam and other regional powers as well as EU and UK and also upgraded Japan's own defence capabilities.
Abe was one of the architects of the Quad, the US, India, Japan and Australia alliance aimed at countering China's growing influence and military might.