“An American Audience [should] remember the japanese were the nazis of asia [in World War II] — they killed millions of Chinese, and the modern Chinese founding myth is a fight against Japan,” said Matthew Schmidt, director of international affairs at the University of New Haven. “Abe was a controversial figure [in China] because his basic position was: “I want a Japan that is no longer tied to the history of World War II”.
Underneath a CCTV news article reporting Abe’s death which received 2.55 million likes, some commentators celebrated the incident.
“That person [Abe’s assassin] will be written in Japanese history,” said one of the top commenters as “Shinzo Abe’s death” became one of the top trending items on Friday on Weibo. “Good and bad will always be rewarded,” said another. Users also pointed to Thursday’s anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which marked the start of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China in 1937.
“We are not qualified to forgive the wicked for the millions of compatriots who died in the war against China and the Nanjing Massacre! ! ! Do not forget the national humiliation! ! !” said one post.
The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said in a statement that the government was “shocked” by Abe’s killing and credited him with “improving and developing China-Japan relations”. But Chinese government censors have not removed anti-Abe comments from the internet, suggesting some degree of official tolerance. On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment on netizens’ reactions. “This unexpected incident should not be related to China-Japan relations,” he said.
The anti-Abe online comment reflects how China’s education system – focused on a national ‘patriotic education’ curriculum tied to a searing anti-Japanese historical narrative – has conditioned a generation of young Chinese people to insult Japan .
These sentiments are sown both by the horrors Japan inflicted on China during World War II as well as the long-running territorial disputes over control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese government calls World War II the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War”.
Beijing has also suppressed Tokyo’s increasingly vocal support for Taiwan’s defense against possible Chinese aggression. Abe has become a strong advocate for Japan to protect Taiwan since stepping down as prime minister in 2020, making him a target of criticism from China’s foreign ministry.
In February, Abe called on the Biden administration to abandon its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether the United States would defend Taiwan from a Chinese military invasion, saying “the people of Taiwan share our universal values” and deserves a solid defense. Abe also sparked Chinese outrage by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which honors Japanese war dead, including convicted “Class A” war criminals. Abe also made deepening Japanese ties with the United States a key part of his administration and led Japan’s efforts to revitalize the Quad, an informal geopolitical grouping made up of Japan, the United States, the India and Australia.
Despite Abe’s track record of opposing the ruling Chinese Communist Party, it could be in Beijing’s interest to snuff out the fires of online commentary that could further sour Sino-Japanese relations.
“In a time of tragedy like this, when a world leader has been assassinated, the CCP would not want to encourage the hostile comments on Chinese-language social media that have erupted since Abe’s death,” Anne said. -Marie Brady, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “The CCP will want to rein in these comments both because they do not reflect the message they want to send to the Japanese government and people at this time, but also because the CCP rightly fears that nationalist sentiment will backfires, reflecting deeper societal feelings of antagonisms”.