07/09/2022, 10.36
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Xi Jinping 'mourns' Abe's passing, but Beijing is more likely to celebrate

by Emanuele Scimia

His political positions, especially on Taiwan's defense, pitted the former premier against the Chinese. And while India loses an ally in building an anti-Chinese front, the Russians cannot be overly sorry either. For South East Asia, Abe was a promoter of regional multilateralism.



Rome (AsiaNews) - Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his condolences along with other global leaders for the assassination of former Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe. His commrades in Beijing, however, are more likely to celebrate the passing of a statesman who was now perceived as an adversary, if not an enemy.

As a nationalist who wanted to change Japan's pacifist Constitution, a legacy of World War II, Abe attempted to improve relations with China, but to a large extent his foreign policy was a challenge to the geopolitical rise of the Chinese dragon.

The Taiwanese government knows this well, and undoubtedly regret over the Japanese politician's death is felt most keenly in Taipei. After his resignation as premier in 2020, Abe's opposition to China's sights on Taiwan intensified. Abe called for an increase of two per cent of GDP for the national defence budget also as a deterrent to China from using force against Taiwan.

The former Tokyo Prime Minister also wanted the US to review its "strategic ambiguity" towards Taipei and clarify its commitment to the island's defence. Abe recently recalled that a possible Chinese attack on the US during a crisis along the Taiwan Strait could pose an 'existential threat' to Japan. In such a case, Tokyo would have to exercise its right of 'collective self-defence' - adopted by its government in 2015 - and intervene as an ally of Washington.

Beijing also remembers that Abe was a proponent of reviving the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), a discussion forum between the US, Japan, Australia and India that the Chinese leadership sees as the embryo of an Asian NATO. Thanks to the QUAD, Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have further cemented relations between their countries in an anti-Chinese perspective.

All this without forgetting the diatribe over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Japan but which China claims as its own: in fact a potential fuse for a future military clash between the two countries. 

Despite Vladimir Putin's publicly expressed sorrow, even in the Kremlin they must feel they have gained something from Abe's demise. The late Japanese leader was a hardliner against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and used the issue to promote Japan's military build-up. It is worth mentioning that Moscow and Tokyo have never reached an agreement on the Kuril Islands, which Russia administers but Japan partly claims.

Among the nations of South-East Asia, the general mood is most likely the opposite: that of having lost a point of reference. Abe had promoted multilateral efforts to bring the Asia-Pacific economies closer together. He relaunched - successfully - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wanted by former US President Barack Obama, the free trade agreement that was supposed to counter the Chinese advance, later abandoned by Trump. As of 2018, a version of the pact without Washington's membership is in force, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Cptpp), which includes Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. 

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