China complains to Japan about Taiwan vice-president at Abe funeral

Taiwan's Vice-President William Lai leaves after attending the funeral of former Japan PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday (July 12) its embassy in Japan had lodged "stern representations" with the government there about Taiwan Vice-President William Lai attending the funeral of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Mr Lai visited Japan in what a Japanese official described as a private visit to pay his respects as a friend of Mr Abe’s, a move that was always likely to upset Beijing.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary. 

Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing, said Taiwan was a part of China and “does not have a so-called vice-president”.  

“After the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Abe, the Taiwan authorities used the opportunity to engage in political manipulation,” Mr Wang said. “It’s impossible this kind of scheming will succeed.”

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said Mr Lai was the most senior official to visit Japan since Tokyo broke official ties with Taipei in 1972 and forged relations with Beijing.  

Mr Abe, gunned down at a campaign rally last week, was a popular figure in Taiwan for his support for the island, and on Monday President Tsai Ing-wen visited the de facto Japanese embassy in Taipei to pay her respects.  

Mr Lai, a possible future presidential candidate for the next elections in 2024, is expected to return to Taiwan later on Tuesday, according to the Central News Agency.  

Ahead of the election, where Ms Tsai cannot run again due to term limits, Mr Lai has been taking on an increasingly prominent international role.  

In January he visited Taiwan’s diplomatic ally Honduras, passing through the United States there and on his way back, where he had a virtual meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  

He also briefly talked with US Vice-President Kamala Harris while in Honduras, a rare encounter that was highly symbolic and provoked anger in Beijing at a time of simmering tension with Washington.

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