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Japan to assess situation after US announces 'diplomatic boycott' of Beijing Olympics

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seen speaking to reporters about the U.S. "diplomatic boycott" of the Beijing Olympics, at the prime minister's office on Dec. 7, 2021. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to carefully assess the situation and take appropriate measures in response to the United States' "diplomatic boycott" of the Beijing Olympics amid tensions with China.

    2022 marks 50 years since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, making it a good year to stabilize relations between the two counties. While exploring trends in domestic public opinion at home and other countries' movements, Japan will examine whether there is room for dispatching government representatives.

    "Japan expects the Beijing Winter Games to be held as a celebration of peace," Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters on Dec. 7. While maintaining that the government's response on the matter was "undecided," he emphasized the view that the Olympics should not be involved in politics.

    While Japan has been keeping China, which is intensifying its hegemonic behavior, in check in cooperation with the U.S. and other countries, the Beijing Olympics case is complicated. China backed the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which risked cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, with President Xi Jinping showing willingness to cooperate.

    At the same time, China avoided sending a top official and instead dispatched Gou Zhongwen, head of the General Administration of Sport of China -- a lower-ranking official than those who have attended past Olympics -- to the Tokyo Games opening ceremony. A higher-ranking delegate was not dispatched over concerns it would raise attention on political dialogue between Japan and China, and possibly have a negative impact.

    Japan is considering dispatching Japan Sports Agency commissioner Koji Murofushi, who is of a similar rank to Zhongwen, to the Beijing Games. A government official said, "If the person is not a minister, it might avoid causing friction."

    Decisions on who to send will also be difficult as countries in Europe, which is increasingly criticizing human rights issues in China, move in line with the U.S. But at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who aimed to advance Japan-Russia relations, attended the opening ceremony while Western leaders were absent to oppose Russia's regulations on gay rights and other movements.

    Assessing domestic anti-Chinese sentiment is also a challenge. A conservative group of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Dec. 7 requested that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida join the U.S.'s diplomatic boycott. Kishida responded, "I want to make a decision that benefits the national interest."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Miyajima and Tsumuki Nakamura, Political News Department)

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