China Tries to Tamp Down Nationalist Fervor Over Abe Shooting

(Bloomberg) -- Leading nationalist figures in China tried to silence celebrations after the shooting of Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese leader who sparked controversy by urging to Japan to bolster its military.

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A social media account of China Central Television was filled with comments rejoicing in the attack that killed Abe. One Weibo post said it would be fitting if Abe atoned with his life for Japan’s invasion of China before World War II just a day after the 85th anniversary of the start of hostilities in 1937. That post got 210,000 likes.

After Abe died, a post saying “Let the celebrations begin!” got more than 150,000 likes within 30 minutes.

In a sign that the Chinese government didn’t want the nationalist sentiment to spiral out of control, Hu Xijin wrote on Weibo before news Abe had died that “this is the time to put aside political disputes.” Hu, the former editor of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, added: “I hope there can be more people who understand and join me.”

Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing who once suggested China will be ready to seize Taiwan by force in 2027, wrote on Weibo that his followers should rein in their commentary. “What happened today is a tragedy,” Jin said.

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Abe angered the Chinese government and especially the more nationalist segment of the ruling party both while he was in office and after he stepped down, especially for pushing Japan to increase defense spending and revise the pacifist article in its constitution. In 2013, his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo drew a quick rebuke from China for paying respects at a site that memorializes war-dead including World War II criminals.

His video call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in March prompted Wang Wenbin, spokesman at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, to lash out at Japan for its time as a colonial power. Wang said Japan committed “innumerable crimes in Taiwan and therefore shoulders grave, historical crimes and debt to Chinese people.”

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The Foreign Ministry struck a softer tone on Friday. China was “shocked” by the attack, spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing just before news that Abe had died, saying the nation hoped he would recover soon.

“This unexpected incident should not be linked with China-Japan relations,” Zhao added. When asked about some nationalist voices in China cheering the shooting, Zhao declined to “comment on the remarks of net users.”

The Chinese embassy in Tokyo offered its condolences to Abe’s family, saying in a statement he made contributions to the development of relations during his tenure as prime minister.

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