Japan and much of the international community reacted to the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in shock and dismay. But not in China, where the social media response has been sprinkled with joy and anti-Abe vitriol.
Several commenters on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, welcomed the news of Abe’s shooting – allegedly by a 41-year-old Japanese man whose motives remain unclear — at a campaign event on Friday calling for “wine and dine” to toast his death. Some said his killer was a ‘hero’, as Abe pioneered a foreign policy aimed at countering the expansion of China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military footprint in the Indo-Pacific that enraged Beijing.
The response in China reflects how decades of government propaganda designed to stir up Chinese nationalism by vilify the japanese for the atrocities of war have poisoned the public attitude towards Japan. The propaganda also complicates Beijing’s efforts to improve relations with Tokyo to offset the Biden administration’s fight against China. Indo-Pacific Strategy.
“An American Audience [should] remember the japanese were the nazis of asia [in World War II] — they killed millions of Chinese, and the modern Chinese founding myth is a fight against Japan,” said Matthew Schmidt, director of international affairs at the University of New Haven. “Abe was a controversial figure [in China] because his basic position was: “I want a Japan that is no longer tied to the history of World War II”.
Under CCTV news post reporting Abe’s death which received 2.55 million likes, some commenters celebrated the incident.
“That person [Abe’s assassin] will be written in Japanese history,” said best comment said while “the death of Shinzo Abe” became one of the most trending articles on Friday on Weibo. “Good and evil will always be rewarded” says another. Users also pointed to Thursday’s anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which marked the start of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China in 1937.
“We are not qualified to forgive the wicked for the millions of compatriots who died in the war against China and the Nanjing Massacre! ! ! Do not forget the national humiliation! ! !” said a publication.
The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said in a report that the government was “shocked” by Abe’s assassination and credited him with “improving and developing Sino-Japanese relations”. But Chinese government censors have not removed anti-Abe comments from the internet, suggesting some degree of official tolerance. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment. Friday on the reactions of Internet users. “This unexpected incident should not be related to China-Japan relations,” he said.
Anti-Abe online comment reflects how China’s education system – focused on a ‘national’patriotic educationcurriculum threaded with a searing anti-Japanese historical narrative – conditioned a generation of young Chinese people to insult Japan.
These feelings are sown both by the horrors of Japan inflicted on China in World War II as well as long-running territorial disputes over control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese government calls World War II the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War”.
Beijing has also suppressed Tokyo’s increasingly vocal support for Taiwan’s defense against possible Chinese aggression. Abe has become a outspoken lawyer for Japan to protect Taiwan since stepping down as prime minister in 2020, making him a target of criticism from China’s foreign ministry.
In February, Abe called on the Biden administration to give up politics of “strategic ambiguityregarding whether the United States would defend Taiwan against a Chinese military invasion, stating that “the people of Taiwan share our universal values” and deserve a strong defense. Abe also triggered Chinese outrage visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which honors Japanese war dead, including convicted “Class A” war criminals. Abe also made deepening Japanese ties with the United States a key part of his administration and led Japan’s efforts to revitalize the Quad, an informal geopolitical grouping made up of Japan, the United States, the India and Australia.
Despite Abe’s track record of opposing the ruling Chinese Communist Party, it could be in Beijing’s interest to snuff out the fires of online commentary that could further sour Sino-Japanese relations.
“In a time of tragedy like this, when a world leader has been assassinated, the CCP would not want to encourage the hostile comments on Chinese-language social media that have erupted since Abe’s death,” Anne said. -Marie Brady, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “The CCP will want to rein in these comments both because they do not reflect the message they want to send to the Japanese government and people at this time, but also because the CCP rightly fears that nationalist sentiment will backfires, reflecting deeper societal feelings of antagonisms”.