Japan unlikely to send high-ranking official to Beijing Games

File photos/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Left: Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, talks with Masahiko Harada, general manager of Japan’s Beijing Olympic team in November. Right: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters on Tuesday, following the announcement of the U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games.

Japan might not send a minister-level official to the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned from several government and ruling-party sources.

The government is considering sending Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, among others, hoping to keep pace with allies that have announced diplomatic boycotts, including the United States.

A decision will be officially finalized by the end of the year.

Japanese athletes will participate in the Games as planned, irrespective of the decision.

The Japanese government, along with other members of the Group of Seven nations, has expressed concern over human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has emphasized the importance of human rights. The growing view within the government is that it would be difficult to send high-ranking state officials as the human rights situation in China has not improved.

Kishida has expressed hopes to visit the United States for talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and a schedule for the summit is being arranged by Tokyo and Washington. Japan’s position regarding the Beijing Games may feature in their discussions.

Hashimoto is scheduled to attend the International Olympic Committee General Assembly in Beijing just before the Olympics, and there is a possibility she will stay in the city for the Games.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry official, “China wouldn’t lose face” if Hashimoto attends the Games, as she served as minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and is an incumbent member of the Diet.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, and the government wants to avoid irritating Beijing more than necessary.

China sent the head of the General Administration of Sport of China — a minister-level official — to the Tokyo Games this year. To strike a balance, the government is considering sending Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Koji Murofushi to the Beijing Games.

However, some Japanese officials fear Western countries might argue that Japan is “sending a high-ranking state official.”

A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is being called for by some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Conservative lawmakers in the party met with Kishida on Tuesday and asked him not to send a diplomatic delegation to the Games.

The United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and Lithuania have announced diplomatic boycotts and do not plan to send state officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized the moves, saying, “[The Olympics] should not be politicized.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his intention to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics in February.