TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan Vice-President William Lai became the most senior Taiwan official to visit Japan in five decades as he made a private trip to Tokyo to pay his respects on Monday (July 11) following the recent killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said ministry officials were aware that Mr Lai was in Japan on a private visit to pay his respects after Mr Abe was killed on Friday.
The official declined to give further details, including how long Lai would be in Japan.
"We know this person is probably still in Japan but on a private visit to pay respects as Abe’s friend."
Taiwan’s Presidential Office said it had no comment, but noted Mr Lai was "a close friend for many years" of Mr Abe and his family.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on Mr Lai’s "personal schedule". It did not elaborate.
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.
It cited a senior lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as saying Lai visited Abe’s residence in Tokyo to offer condolences and would attend his funeral on Tuesday.
Like most nations, Japan has no formal diplomatic ties with the island, but some senior Japanese officials have become increasingly outspoken on their support for Taiwan in recent years.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary. Beijing says Taipei does not have the right to state-to-state relations and has stepped up efforts to isolate it diplomatically.
Mr Lai was seen earlier Monday visiting Mr Abe's residence with Taiwan's de facto ambassador to Japan, Mr Frank Hsieh, according to Japanese media reports.
Earlier on Monday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen offered her condolences in a visit to Japan's de facto embassy in Taipei, saying she will continue Mr Abe's legacy of closer Taiwan-Japan relationships and deepen ties between the two sides.
She has ordered Taiwan flags to be flown at half-staff through Monday to honour Mr Abe, who was widely considered in Taiwan an important contributor to warming Taipei-Tokyo ties in recent years.