China's Xi sends condolences to Japan PM Kishida over Abe's death

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) with then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Osaka, Japan, in 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday (July 9) sent a message of condolence to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida over the death of former leader Shinzo Abe, state media reported.

The two leaders had a stable but frosty relationship, as Mr Abe attempted to mend ties in recent years despite bitter historical grievances between the regional rivals and a simmering dispute over an island chain claimed by both countries.

"On behalf of the Chinese government and the Chinese people, and in his own name, Xi Jinping expressed deep condolences over the untimely death of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, and condolences to his relatives," state broadcaster CCTV said.

"I am deeply saddened by his sudden passing," it reported Mr Xi as saying, adding that he and wife Peng Liyuan had sent a separate message of condolence to Mr Abe's widow Akie.

After resigning from office in 2020 due to ill health, Mr Abe became a staunch defender of Taiwan and called on the United States and Japan to come to its defence in case of a military invasion by China.

Mr Xi's public tribute to the former prime minister, who died on Friday after being assassinated while campaigning in the Japanese city of Nara, lagged behind those of multiple other world leaders.

Mr Abe was deeply unpopular in China partly due to his repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial memorial to Japan's war dead.

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