Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday the country is "shocked" by the shooting death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, extending condolences over the former leader's sudden going.

The Japanese politician "made contributions to promoting the improvement and development of China-Japan relations," the spokesman told reporters.

Before the news of Abe's death, Zhao had voiced hope that he would recover as soon as possible.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a press conference in Beijing on July 8, 2022. (Kyodo)

Earlier Friday, the Global Times, a tabloid of China's ruling Communist Party, quoted a researcher who described the attack as the "biggest political incident" in Japanese politics after World War II.

"The shooting comes at a sensitive time ahead of the upper house election," Xiang Haoyu, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said, adding political motives may have been behind it.

"There are mixed opinions" on Abe in Japan, and "anti-Abe public opinion always existed," including dissatisfaction and disgust with his neo-liberal economic policies and a hawkish security stance, Xiang was quoted as saying.

"Such violence should be strongly condemned, but Japan should also reflect on whether there is a danger of polarization in its domestic politics," Xiang said, according to the Global Times.

Abe, a 67-year-old lawmaker who became the nation's longest-serving prime minister, was pronounced dead about five hours after he was shot by a gunman while campaigning for Sunday's House of Councillors election in the western city of Nara.

Abe served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2020. After stepping down, he became the head of the largest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, retaining influence over the current government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Since 2012, he promoted his "Abenomics" policy mix, comprised of aggressive monetary easing, massive fiscal spending and a growth strategy, with some economists criticizing such measures for widening the revenue gap between big and small firms.

On the diplomatic front, Sino-Japanese relations became frayed further after Abe said in December 2021 that any emergency concerning self-ruled Taiwan would be an emergency for Japan and the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

Abe had also expressed hope to visit Taiwan, a prospect that could have convulsed bilateral ties between Japan and China, which are marking the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations this year.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen offered her heartfelt sympathy, saying, "Not only has the international community lost an important leader, but Taiwan has also lost an important close friend," according to her spokesman Xavier Chang.

Taiwan's representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, who just visited Abe last week, wrote on his Facebook page that he was deeply saddened by the news of the former premier's death, characterizing it as "the loss of one of our own family members."

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war. Beijing has regarded the island as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Tokyo cut diplomatic ties with Taipei and established them with Beijing in 1972. A joint communique signed that year stipulates that China "reiterates that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory" and that Japan "fully understands and respects this stand."

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