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Japan to quietly snub Beijing Olympics, but won’t call it a boycott

  • December 17, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 3:10 a.m.
  • English Press
  • ,

RINTARO TOBITA, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and all of Japan’s cabinet ministers plan to skip the Beijing Winter Olympics, Tokyo is looking to avoid declaring an explicit diplomatic boycott as it grapples to strike the right balance between its sole ally and a key trading partner.


“At this point, I myself am not planning to attend,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at an upper house budgetary meeting on Thursday.


Kishida is expected to announce Japan’s official stance on the Games this month, possibly when the current parliamentary session ends on Tuesday. The current proposal is to avoid using the term “diplomatic boycott” altogether, and attribute the absence of Kishida and other Japanese cabinet members to factors including, but not limited to, China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.


The government will also weigh sending Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Koji Murofushi, a decision that may be pushed to next year. Olympic officials, such as Japan Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita, will head to Beijing separate from any government delegation.


This approach would be markedly more tempered than countries like the U.S., and could trigger pushback from Japan’s Western partners.


The Biden administration on Dec. 6 announced that it will send no government officials to the Beijing Olympics. The U.K., Australia and Canada have since joined the U.S.

“There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week.


The Japanese government looks to stand with the U.S., its only formal ally, without excessively antagonizing China. “We will make our own decision based on a comprehensive review of our national interests,” Kishida has repeatedly said on the issue.


“There are countries that officially use the term ‘diplomatic boycott,’ and there are countries that don’t,” Kishida said on Thursday. “Even the U.S. didn’t call it a ‘diplomatic boycott’ in its official statement.”


Still, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Canada have all explicitly stated that they were protesting human rights abuses by the Chinese government. Japan, in contrast, looks to frame human rights as just one of several contributing factors.


The conservative wing of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is pushing Kishida to adopt a tougher stance. Lawmakers from the LDP and other parties met the prime minister on Tuesday to urge for a diplomatic boycott.


“The Chinese government itself needs to allay concerns over human rights violations,” they said in a statement to Kishida that day.


“We should announce a diplomatic boycott,” conservative LDP members told Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Wednesday as well.


But Japan is not alone in its hesitation. Germany, for example, has not taken a definitive stance on the Olympics so far. Tokyo believes it will not be left in the cold as long as it articulates its approach by the end of the year.


Meanwhile, New Zealand said it will not send officials to Beijing, not because of human rights but because of COVID-19.


Other countries appear to be siding with China. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he is not thinking of a diplomatic boycott. India has expressed support for the Beijing Olympics.

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