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Japan trying to get more info on N. Korea decision to skip Olympics

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato speaks at a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on April 6, 2021. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government was working Tuesday to gather more information about the announcement by North Korea that it will skip this summer's Tokyo Olympics to protect its athletes from the novel coronavirus.

    Katsunobu Kato, the government's top spokesman, said it will "closely monitor" coordination between North Korea, the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese organizing committee for the Tokyo Games over Pyongyang's reported intention.

    Amid skepticism in Japan and elsewhere over whether the organizers can stage the Olympics and Paralympics safely, the chief Cabinet secretary told a news conference, "The government will continue to make efforts to prepare the environment, including taking anti-virus steps, for many countries and regions to be able to take part in the Tokyo Games."

    North Korea became the first country to announce that it will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to open on July 23 following a one-year postponement due to the global health crisis.

    Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa told a separate news conference the government is trying to "confirm the details" of the online statement that North Korea's Olympic committee decided not to attend the games during its session last month.

    "We will continue to prepare for the games by working closely with related organizations so athletes from each country and region can demonstrate their best performances," the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics said in a statement.

    North Korea's decision may have a negative impact on Tokyo's diplomatic strategy to make headway on the issue of Pyongyang's past abduction of Japanese nationals.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had seen the global sporting event as an important opportunity to lay the groundwork for the resumption of political dialogue between Tokyo and Pyongyang in the near future.

    Kato, however, said the decision will not affect Japan's efforts to repatriate its citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

    "The stance of the government that we work proactively and are ready to hold direct dialogue remains unchanged," he also said.

    Since early last year, North Korea has, in principle, cut off traffic to and from China and Russia over concerns that the novel coronavirus might spread across its borders.

    One government official said North Korea's decision not to attend the games is not surprising, given that athletes cannot take part in Olympic competitions if they do not participate in regional qualification events, which require them to travel to other countries.

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