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China mourns Shinzo Abe’s death, but nationalists don’t forget


The fragmented reaction of China best represents the sentiment between the appreciation for a great statesman who has always tried to heal relationships with old neighbours and the hatred for an invading country that has committed war crimes

Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving former prime minister, was shot dead on the 8th of July in the southern city of Nara. Abe was campaigning to support the re-election of Kei Sato, a member of the upper house of the Japanese parliament. The reactions from the heads of states arrived immediately, while President Xi Jinping waited almost 24 hours after the attack to make his institutional condolences.

However, while the Chinese bureaucratic apparatus stuck to the pleasantries, Chinese public opinion and its social media had an antithetical reaction. China and Japan have been on and off for the last ten years. However, Abe was able to revive a situation in which relations between the two countries were at a minimum and indeed, it was falling on hot topics such as the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

Although these two countries are far from a political point of view, they are strongly interconnected, representing the second and third-largest economies in the world. Therefore, Abe sensed that it was necessary to reconnect with a country that represented so much from an economic point of view. The formal broken-down reaction of China, as a unit of all its components, best represents this sentiment between hatred for a country that has invaded and committed war crimes (such as the massacre of Nanjing) and appreciation for a man who has always tried to heal relationships with old neighbours.

Xi Jinping grieves over Abe's departure

After the usual ritual of waiting to leave space for the country and the family to mourn the former prime minister, Xi Jinping also expressed his sorrow.

He sent a message that conveyed his condolences to the Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Xi said in this message that "during his tenure, Abe made positive efforts and contributions to promote an improvement in China-Japan relations", hoping that also Prime Minister Kishida continues to develop their relationship of good neighbourliness.

The relationship between Xi and Abe was excellent. Before the pandemic broke out, Abe had organized what would have crowned the diplomatic closeness between the two countries, namely Xi's historic visit to Tokyo in 2020.

However, this was first delayed and then cancelled, only to be forgotten given the change of personnel at the head of Japan. Nevertheless, Xi best embodied the institutional grief typical of an agreeable diplomat: furthermore, this is also witnessed by the reaction of spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who said that China was "shocked" by the "unexpected incident."

The reaction of nationalists

Antithetical was the reaction on social media of the Chinese nationalists. Many netizens have poured on the platform Weibo, proclaiming Tetsuya Yamagami, the murderer (41 years, former soldier of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces), as a "hero" and stating that "this person [Abe's assassin] will be written in Japanese history."

The antipathy of Chinese nationalists towards Japan is well known, especially when we think about the colonial history that led China to live its "century of humiliation".

Moreover, this chorus of joy saw the participation of several Koreans because they were victims of the same brutal treatment during the Japanese invasion. It is no coincidence, they recall in an online post, that this assassination took place just one day after the 85th anniversary of the invasion of Japan in China, precisely since the Marco Polo Bridge accident in 1937.

The nationalists rejoice, rejoice over the death of Shinzo Abe, and there are some Chinese on Weibo who justify their attitude, admitting that feeling happy is a normal reaction. At the same time, other Chinese figures, such as the journalist Zeng Ying, had to apologize publicly for her "unpatriotic behaviour”, since she was visibly moved during the service as she announced the mourning of this great politician, appreciated by all the heads of state.

The Chinese society are split into two parts: there is an institutional scaffold that mourns the death of Abe, as per diplomatic practice, while the soul of the Chinese people most linked to the patriotic values of the Chinese Communist Party smiles at this event, recalling that "good and evil always pay off!"

The truth, as always, lies in the middle: the world has lost a great statesman who has managed to give his approach to the global order, lifting Japan through its "Abenomics" recipe and shaping the concept of Indo-Pacific, but at the same time he was trying to slow the rise of China, by joining closer its two most significant allies, the US and Taiwan.

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