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The People’s Republic of China issued a statement Friday lamenting the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
China’s embassy in the United States gave the condolences after reports confirmed Abe passed away from his wounds after being shot while delivering a speech in Nara Prefecture.
Beijing used a cordial tone in their statement despite the years of tension between the Abe cabinet and the Chinese Communist Party. The late prime minister routinely butted heads with President Xi Jinping while in office.
“Former Prime Minister Abe made contributions towards improving China-Japan relations during his term,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy told Reuters on Friday.
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“We express our condolences on his death and send our sympathies to his family,” the statement concluded.
Abe was famous, domestically and abroad, for his strong nationalist policies and stated vision for a more powerful, self-sufficient Japan. He repeatedly refused policies suggested by international bodies — such as migration and refugee quotas — saying that his country first needed to fix its own problems.
Abe’s Japan-first policies rustled feathers across East Asia, where Japan has maintained less-than-affectionate relationships with China and South Korea since the end of World War II.
Japan and China have been in a cold war over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands — a disputed archipelago between mainland China and Japan.
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Just this week, China raised alarms after a military show of force near the islands, prompting yet another in a long line of complaints about their ownership. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Tuesday that Japan lodged a protest expressing “grave concern” to Beijing over the incident.
“The Senkaku islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory historically and under international law. The government will deal with the matter calmly but firmly to protect the Japanese land, territorial waters and air space,” Kihara said.
Japan, for its part, views China’s increasingly assertive military activity in the East and South China seas as a threat to regional stability. Tokyo is especially sensitive to Chinese activities near the disputed islands.
Abe also championed Taiwan as a key ally to prevent Chinese aggression and expansion, routinely speaking in support of its right to self-governance.
The People’s Republic of China has long claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, the relatively narrow strip of ocean between the island of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. The Chinese military has frequently sent planes into the area, testing Taiwan’s air defense zone.
The difference of policy toward the small island is a source of tension.
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The fatal shooting of Abe shocked world leaders Friday and swiftly drew comments full of condemnation and sorrow from officials globally.
President Joe Biden released a statement that he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened by the news that my friend Abe Shinzo, former Prime Minister of Japan, was shot and killed while campaigning.”
“This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” Biden said, championing his work in promoting democracy not only in Japan, but around the world.
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Other world leaders from the Group of 7, like French President Emmanuel Macron, took to Twitter to say he was “Deeply shocked by the heinous attack that Shinzo Abe suffered.”
“Japan is losing a great Prime Minister, who dedicated his life to his country and worked to bring balance to the world,” he added.
German Chancellor Olaf Schultz said he was “shocked and deeply saddened.”
“We stand closely by Japan’s side even in these difficult hours,” he tweeted.