TOKYO — Senior lawmakers of the ruling parties agreed Wednesday to adjust the Diet schedule with opposition parties so that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month.
The move comes despite growing calls within the government for Abe to skip the event amid a fresh bilateral feud over “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
South Korean President Moon Jae In urged Japan last week to apologize anew to those women, many of whom were from the Korean Peninsula, although Tokyo and Seoul agreed in 2015 to settle the issue “finally and irreversibly.”
Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, and Yoshihisa Inoue, Nikai’s counterpart of the coalition partner Komeito party, confirmed the policy of accommodating the premier’s trip to South Korea in the parliamentary schedule during their meeting in Tokyo, according to lawmakers who attended the talks.
Abe has declined to elaborate on whether he will attend the Olympics opening ceremony scheduled for Feb. 9, only saying he will decide after examining the Diet schedule. The 150-day ordinary parliament session will convene on Monday.
“Although that will be decided by the government, I believe it is better (for Abe) to go” to the opening ceremony in light of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 and the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, one of the participants quoted Inoue as saying, adding Nikai agreed with the view.
However, Koichi Hagiuda, who serves as executive acting secretary general of the LDP, said on a radio program the same day that Japan “will be hosting a Summer Olympics, and will not take over a baton” from South Korea which will be hosting the Winter Games.
Hagiuda, one of Abe’s close aides, also said lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima, sports minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki are likely to attend the opening event.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, struck a cautious tone, saying in a press conference that attending Diet sessions is the top priority for the prime minister, adding, “It will be hard to tell (whether Abe can go to Pyeongchang or not) until the last minute.”