Japan's Abe hails Thatcher as strong and devoted leader

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's conservative leader, who recently quoted Margaret Thatcher on the Falklands as he spoke of Tokyo's acrimonious islands dispute with China, Monday paid tribute to the former British prime minister.

Lady Thatcher, who died following a stroke aged 87, was a great leader who demonstrated force of will and a respectable politician who devoted herself to her state and her people, Mr Abe said in a statement, according to Japan's Jiji Press agency.

"I want to share deep sorrow with the British public," the prime minister was quoted as saying.

In February, Mr Abe channelled the Iron Lady in a speech to parliament in which he talked about Japan's resolve to defend islands claimed by Beijing in the East China Sea.

"Our national interests are immutable forever," he told lawmakers. "They aim at making the seas - the foundation of our nation's existence - completely open, free and peaceful." Aggressors should never triumph, he said at the time.

"Former Prime Minister Thatcher, recalling the Falklands War, said she tried to follow the principle that above all, international law - the fundamental rule for the entire world - must prevail against the use of force," Mr Abe said.

The comments echoed those by Mrs Thatcher in her autobiography in which she reflected on the 1982 conflict with Argentina over the ownership of the Falklands after an Argentine invasion.

Mrs Thatcher sent a task force that recaptured the islands after a 74-day war, which left 649 Argentines and 255 Britons dead.

Japan-China ties have been strained since a long-simmering territorial dispute over the group of islands in the East China Sea intensified last year.

Japan administers the unoccupied islands, which it calls Senkaku. China, which also claims them, refers to them as Diaoyu. The waters around the islands are considered potentially rich in natural resources.

Tensions spiked last September after the Japanese government purchased islets in the chain it did not already own, sparking violent demonstrations in Chinese cities.

Former Japanese premier Yasuo Fukuda said he briefly met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday in his capacity as chairman of an international conference, the Boao Forum for Asia, but there was no discussion of bilateral tensions.

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