Japan PM Abe resigns: Get-well wishes and accolades pour in from world leaders

An extra edition of a local newspaper being given out in Tokyo yesterday to inform the Japanese public of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's resignation. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An extra edition of a local newspaper being given out in Tokyo yesterday to inform the Japanese public of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's resignation. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Accolades poured in globally yesterday as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called time on his tenure as the leader of the world's third-largest economy, with leaders saying they hoped for his speedy recovery from a flare-up of a chronic condition.

China and South Korea, whose ties with Japan have blown hot and cold over issues such as history and territory disputes, said they will continue to work with the new government to foster friendly ties.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "This is an internal affair of Japan and we will not comment. China and Japan are close neighbours, and China is willing to work with Japan to continue to promote the development of China-Japan relations."

A state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, scheduled for April, had been postponed due to Covid-19, with no new date in sight.

Tokyo has recently been taking a stronger tone against Beijing over its military expansionism in both the East China and South China seas, as well as over Hong Kong, and Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party has urged that the state visit be cancelled.

In South Korea, presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said Seoul regrets the resignation.

Without elaborating, he credited Mr Abe for having "long played many roles for the development of South Korea-Japan relations", and for "various meaningful accomplishments" as Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

Ties between the two neighbours have rapidly chilled over wartime labour, territory and trade disputes.

Mr Kwon Tae-shin, vice-chairman of business lobby Federation of Korean Industries, said he hoped bilateral ties will improve under a new Japanese leader.

However, associate professor of international studies Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha Womans University in Seoul does not see this as a certainty.

"But there will be an opportunity for President Moon Jae-in's administration to improve relations with little political cost because doing so will not be seen as a concession to Mr Abe," he said, noting that the South Korean public blames Mr Abe for strained bilateral ties.

 
 
 
 

In Russia, with which Japan also has a territorial dispute, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed Mr Abe's "invaluable contribution to the development of bilateral Russian-Japanese relations".

Get-well wishes have also poured in. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach praised Mr Abe for being a "strong partner who always stood up for the interests of Japan and who at the same time could always be trusted".

"In this way, we were able to find solutions, even in the most difficult circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, which allow his vision for Japan to still come true, even if with one year's delay," he said, referring to the postponement of the Olympic Games to next year.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was sorry to learn of Mr Abe's resignation, and wished him a good recovery.

"Under his leadership, our bilateral relations have deepened," PM Lee said, citing Mr Abe's critical role in pushing the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact past the finishing line after the United States' withdrawal.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Mr Abe as "a man of integrity and wisdom". "He has advocated for the region's prosperity and stability, bringing his leadership as an experienced statesman of the first order," Mr Morrison said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she regrets Mr Abe's resignation and hailed his "fight for multilateralism".

 
 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also thanked Mr Abe for deepening ties with their respective nations.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen also hailed his friendliness towards Taiwan on policy as well as the rights and interests of its people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2020, with the headline 'Get-well wishes and accolades pour in from world leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe