What the Shinzo Abe assassination could mean for the China question
The death of the former Japanese Prime Minister has provoked different reactions between mainland China and Taiwan, but also between government officials and the public in the People's Republic. Looking ahead, will Japan's pro-Taiwan stance stick for the long haul? Dan Wu asks for Worldcrunch.
The assassination of Shinzo Abe has shocked the world, and East Asia in particular. The longest-serving Japanese prime minister was admired for his personal charisma and stern decisiveness, but was also among the most conservative and nationalistic leaders in the region's post-War history.
Even if he is credited with stabilizing Japan's economy, his two stints in office are notable for coinciding with the rise of China as a global economic and military power.
After Abe was shot to death Friday while on a campaign event, the reaction from the People's Republic of China offered a significant discrepancy between what was said from official government channels and the public via social media. President Xi Jinping and China’s Foreign Ministry had “amicably” offered their condolences, while countless posts and videos from the Chinese internet celebrated the death of a “national enemy.”
Abe’s death occurred exactly one day after the 85th anniversary of imperial Japan’s mass invasion of China. He had a notorious reputation in China, where he was considered a historical "denier" of Japanese war crimes, including sex slavery known as "comfort women" that included Chinese and Korean victims in the 1930s and 1940s. Nikkei daily recalled Abe also made controversial visits to the Yasukuni shrine, where imperial Japanese militarism was glorified and 12 war criminals from World War II are buried.
Apart from Abe’s position on Japanese imperial history, his era had also witnessed ups and downs in current Sino-Japanese relations. The interactions between the two neighboring countries had been relatively cold due to territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea.
It was only the visits of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang to Japan and Abe’s visit to China in 2018 (the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to China in seven years) that broke the ice and maintained the fragile Sino-Japan relationship. The trade war between China and the U.S. and the reinforced Japan-U.S. alliance have also put Sino-Japanese relations under strain since 2020.
In Xi’s official condolences, he described Abe as someone who “had worked hard to improve relations between the neighbors”. However, the gleeful reactions on Chinese social media, which are tolerated by Beijing, show Abe’s controversial image in this country.
Meanwhile, Abe had never concealed his efforts to strengthen Japan’s relationship with Taiwan, maintaining his firm position that there would be a response to any attempt by the mainland to invade across the Taiwan Strait, which had repeatedly antagonized Beijing.
Abe was considered Japan’s most pro-Taiwan political leader since the 1960s, wrote Chinese news outlet The Initium. He maintained good relationships with politicians from Taiwan’s two major parties, including former presidents Ying-jeou Ma, Teng-hui Lee and current president Ing-wen Tsai.
In 2013, the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement was signed under Abe and president Ma, and has proved instrumental in stabilizing relations between Taiwan and Japan, while reinforcing communications and cooperation between the two countries.
After stepping down as Prime Minister two years ago for health reasons, Abe had been even more open about his support for Taiwan, and made several clear statements on his stance on the Taiwan Strait security issues. When Beijing banned the import of Taiwanese pineapple in April 2021, Abe posted a photo of himself smiling with the fruit on his social media showing support and promoting the product, which won many Taiwanese hearts.
In December, Abe made perhaps the boldest statement yet about the issue, when he declared: “A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency,” warning Beijing that “any invasion of Taiwan” would be “suicidal.” China’s Foreign Ministry lashed back at Abe.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Abe wrote a provocative op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in April, comparing the Ukrainian crisis to the Taiwan Strait and openly urging the U.S. to “defend Taiwan.”
On hearing of Abe’s assassination, current Taiwan president Tsai expressed her regrets on losing “Taiwan’s most firm old friend.” Taiwan’s landmark, the skyscraper Taipei 101, was lit up with messages paying tribute to Abe, while on Monday, government bodies and public schools in Taiwan flew flags at half-mast.
There are few who doubt that we will see any radically different approach to China from Japan''s current leader, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is from Abe's party.
Still, the assassination — which did not appear to be linked directly to electoral politics — came in the final hours of the campaign for the Upper House election of the Japanese legislature. And though results from Sunday's vote show that the Liberal Democratic Party of Abe and Kishida has won a majority, we can be sure that both Beijing and Taipei will be watching the evolution of Japanese politics closer than ever.
— Dan Wu / Worldcrunch
• Death toll rises in Chasiv Yar: According to Ukrainian authorities, the death toll following the missile attack in the eastern Ukrainian city of Chasiv Yar rose to 34. Rescues are still searching victims through the rubble after Russian missiles hit residential buildings on Saturday.
• Japan mourns Shinzo Abe: The private funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was held this morning at the Zojoji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. A crowd of thousands gathered to pay its respects to the longest-serving prime minister and the procession was live on TV.
• Meeting of EU finance ministers: EU officials revealed that Europe’s finance ministers met and failed again to name the successor of Klaus Regling at the head of the bailout fund. The ministers also discussed the skyrocketing inflation and energy prices ahead of the Eurogroup meeting and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council planned today to find solutions to the crisis. Meanwhile, the euro and the dollar are close to parity for the first time in two decades.
• BoJo successor to be announced on Sept. 5: The name of Boris Johnson’s successor as the British Conservative party leader will be revealed on Sept. 5. According to Graham Grady, who chairs the committee of Conservative members of parliament in charge of organizing the leadership contest, nominations will be opened on Tuesday. The new leader of the party will automatically become the new UK prime minister.
• Sri Lanka president’s brother tries to leave the country: Immigration officials from the Colombo airport stopped Sri Lanka’s president's brother and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa from flying out of the country amid crisis and anger against the family for the ongoing crisis.
• Chinese city under lockdown over one COVID-19 case: As part of its strict zero-COVID policy, China decided to put the city of Wugang, in the Hunan region, under lockdown after one single case was detected. Over 300,000 people are not allowed to go outside until Thursday and officials added that “basic necessities would be delivered by local authorities.”
• Jane Goo-doll: U.S. doll manufacturer Mattel unveiled a Jane Goodall Barbie doll in honor of the iconic British primatologist. The doll, made from recycled plastic, was created as part of the Barbie’s Inspiring Women series and released ahead of the World’s Chimpanzee Day as Goodall was well-known for her studies on chimpanzees and conservation efforts.
Saudi daily Makkah praises the end of a “successful pilgrimage” on its front page today, as the Hajj annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia (the holiest city for Muslims), draws to a close today.
NASA has released an infrared image of the galaxy cluster SMACS (Southern MAssive Cluster Survey) 0723, showing our universe 13 billion years ago — i.e. just 600 million years after the Big Bang. The image, taken over the course of twelve hours, is the first taken by the James Webb Telescope, the largest space telescope ever built, offering humanity a glimpse of the oldest documented light in the history of the universe. See the high-resolution picture here.
Havana darkness: the sad return of Cuba's rolling blackouts
Blackouts were common across Cuba during the 1990s. Today, the country is once again in the midst of an energy crisis as power shortages push Cubans' patience to the limits, and remind many of the decades of government failings. For digital multimedia platform el Toque, Cuban journalist Glenda Boza Ibarra writes:
🇨🇺 I have few memories of the blackouts of the 1990s, almost all of them tinged with childish innocence: games in the street or neighbors' conversations in the doorway. The nights seemed endless. The blackouts that occurred in Cuba after the fall of the USSR mean there were 12, 10 or sometimes only 8 hours of electricity a day. More than electricity generation, it was a fuel problem. Until 1991, Cuba exchanged one ton of sugar for seven or eight tons of oil with the Russians. With the fall of the Eastern Bloc, that exchange came to an end. Cuba imported 98% of the necessary fuel and, by August 1991, the reserves had been exhausted.
⚡️ Protests swept across Cuba in July 2021, mainly triggered by blackouts. Hundreds were arrested. An explosive social cocktail was created by: an economy in ruins (there was a 13% decrease in GDP between January 2020 and September 2021), electricity cuts, shortages, inflation, a collapsed health system, the pandemic, a lack of government leadership, and greater visibility of the repression of those who question power. Cubans took to the streets like never before since 1959. In terms of energy, few government promises have been kept. However, it is true that nothing was as bad as 1994 when there were 344 days with blackouts.
🕯 Less investment in hotels and more in energy is the demand today of those who understand that this is not a problem that will be solved quickly. They know the energy crisis deserves more attention, priority and budget resources. At the same time, the current crisis is just one example of the mismanagement that seems to focus only on tourism and neglects other sectors such as transport, food production, and retail. Crisis and scarcity, crisis and scarcity, crisis and scarcity is almost the only thing that we have heard – and experienced – in recent years. Any good news is diluted by the foreshadowing of those two words.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“What really saved me, what made me different, was that I could run.”
— Olympic runner Mohammed “Mo” Farah revealed that he was trafficked to the UK from Djibouti when he was just nine years old to live with a family he didn’t know, who cut him off from his roots and made him their domestic servant. Mohammed’s birth name is Hussein Abdi Kahin, and his mother and siblings live on a farm in Somaliland.
A woman holds her memorial pictures with Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose funeral was held at the Zojoji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. The country’s longest-serving premier was fatally shot at a campaign rally last week by a man using a homemade gun. The suspected killer was arrested at the scene. — Photo: Rodrigo Reyes Marin/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Lila Paulou, Lisa Berdet, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Joel Silvestri