Japan follows U.S. stance over Beijing Games / Hashimoto to attend as compromise

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan has followed the lead of the United States and other countries that have announced diplomatic boycotts of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games over concerns about human rights in China, while giving some thought to Beijing by deciding to send Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At a press conference on Friday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno announced the decision not to send a government delegation to the Games, stressing that Hashimoto is not a government representative.

“Hashimoto will attend [the Games] at the invitation of the International Olympic Committee as president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Matsuno said.

Since the United States announced a diplomatic boycott on Dec. 6, the Japanese government has been looking for a compromise that would avoid upsetting Washington or Beijing.

Hashimoto, an Olympic medalist and member of the House of Councillors, was seen as the ideal solution.

In February, she resigned as minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to assume the presidency of the Games organizing committee.

Not a snub

Hashimoto’s attendance at the Beijing Olympics would not conflict with the U.S. policy of not sending government officials.

At the same time, as former Olympic minister, she “has a high status and, from China’s viewpoint, her attendance would not feel like a snub,” according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Hashimoto will attend the IOC General Assembly in Beijing to report on the hosting of the Tokyo Games and is planning to stay in China during the Winter Olympics.

China dispatched the head of the General Administration of Sport of China — a ministerial-level official — to the Tokyo Olympics.

A plan had been mooted to send Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Koji Murofushi to Beijing but the government eventually decided not to dispatch a high-ranking incumbent official in view of the relationship with the United States.

According to sources close to Kishida, the prime minister had considered making a statement about Japan’s decision regarding the Beijing Olympics at a press conference after the extraordinary Diet session ended on Dec. 21. However, at that time, all he said was, “We will make a decision in light of national interests.”

The White House press secretary announced that the U.S. would not send high-ranking government officials to the Beijing Games.

The Japanese government might have been worried that if Kishida made the announcement it could provoke China. In the end, Matsuno, the government spokesman, announced the decision, without mentioning the word “boycott.”

Kishida later told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office that he took various factors into consideration and that the decision not to send a government delegation to the Beijing Games was his own.

“I strongly feel that the Olympics and Paralympics are a celebration of peace and sports that inspire the world,” he said.

LDP hard-liners

Kishida was under pressure from hard-liners within his Liberal Democratic Party to announce a boycott at an early stage.

At a meeting of the Abe faction on Dec. 9, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “The time has come for Japan to show its will,” regarding human rights issues in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

At an LDP’s Foreign Affairs Division meeting, some lawmakers said that even Hashimoto’s attendance is undesirable because she is a politician.

On Thursday, Abe met Kishida and reminded him of the need for a swift announcement.

“We have joined countries that share universal values. It was good that [Japan] was able to show its decision before the end of the year,” Abe said to reporters on Friday.

A close aide to Kishida said, “It was a tough call, but the prime minister found a good compromise.”