Use Olympic diplomacy to show global solidarity in fighting pandemic

Important figures from around the world will visit Japan to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. It is vital to show international solidarity in overcoming the spread of the novel coronavirus together.

The opening ceremony will be attended by VIPs including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host the next Summer Olympics in Paris, and first lady of the United States Jill Biden. World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is also scheduled to visit Japan and attend related meetings and other events.

More than 80 heads of state and other VIPs attended the opening ceremony of a past Olympics. It is regrettable that there will be few such people this time due to the coronavirus pandemic, but gratitude should be expressed to the VIPs visiting Japan amid the state of emergency declared in Tokyo.

To bring the global coronavirus pandemic under control, it will be important for the international community to work together to implement measures, such as providing vaccines to developing countries and promoting vaccinations for young people. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga needs to try to boost momentum for international cooperation through talks with key figures from other countries.

Jill Biden will be making her first visit to Japan as the first lady of the United States. This can be said to reflect the U.S. administration’s emphasis on relations with Japan. It will help deepen the personal relationship of trust between the prime minister and U.S. President Joe Biden.

Olympic opening ceremonies have been used as diplomatic venues. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, dispatched his younger sister Kim Yo Jong.

Although the current Olympics opening ceremony is not expected to be a stage for showy diplomacy, Japan should enhance the international community’s trust in this nation by taking all possible measures to prevent the spread of the virus. It must fulfill its international pledge to hold the Olympics in a safe and secure manner.

Taiwan had said it would send Audrey Tang, its well-known IT minister, to the Olympics. Her planned visit to Japan was not realized due to a lack of coordination, but Tang wrote in Japanese on social media that her support for the Olympics and her gratitude to Japan remain unchanged.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in decided at the last minute not to visit Japan. It is regrettable that the opportunity for dialogue to improve Tokyo-Seoul relations has been lost.

The South Korean government has said this is because no results were expected at a meeting between the leaders of the two countries. To improve bilateral relations, however, the South Korean side must first come up with a solution to the issues of former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and former so-called comfort women.

South Korea reportedly instructed its athletes not to eat food from Fukushima Prefecture at the athletes village. At one point, a banner with what appeared to be anti-Japan expressions was hung on a balcony of a residential building in the athletes village.

Such moves could further worsen Japan-South Korea relations. Care should be taken not to bring political agenda into the Olympics.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 21, 2021.