Talks over US boycott of Beijing Olympics put Japan in dire straits

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The US State Department said Washington will discuss with its allies a possible boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics on human rights grounds, a move that could force Japan to end up in a corner then that he is struggling with the best way to confront his powerful neighbor on the matter.

“This is something that we certainly want to discuss and that we certainly understand that a coordinated approach will not only be in our best interest but also that of our allies and partners,” the State Department spokesman said on Tuesday. Ned Price. answer to a question about a boycott. “So that’s one of the issues on the agenda both now and in the future.”

Later, a senior US official appeared to curb any shift in US stance regarding participation in matches.

“Our stance on the 2022 Olympics has not changed,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We have not discussed and are not discussing a joint boycott with our allies and partners.”

They added, however, that US officials “regularly discuss common concerns” about China with their allies and partners and that they “will continue to do so.”

China has come under fire for its crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its far-western region of Xinjiang, with a host of criticisms and genocide accusations leveled against Beijing. Japan, however, has been reluctant to challenge China on rights issues, in part for fear of economic retaliation from its major trading partner, although it has also cited the lack of a domestic legal basis for enacting laws. sanctions.

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Japan was the only Group of Seven country not to join coordinated sanctions against senior Chinese Communist Party officials last month for rights violations.

A man sings with others at a rally against China’s treatment of its Uyghur population and Muslim minorities in Washington in February. | REUTERS

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the main government spokesperson, noted Tokyo’s “serious concerns” over reports of abuse in Xinjiang, but declined to give details of a possible boycott of the Games. winter of 2022 or if it would be on Prime Minister Yoshihide’s agenda. Suga’s April 16 summit with US President Joe Biden.

“We understand that an international company should work closely together to strongly encourage China on these issues,” he said, adding that each country individually considered how to achieve this goal and that Japan and the United States stay on the same wavelength.

A senior Japanese official questioned whether Japan should consider boycotting the Olympics since Tokyo and Beijing had mutually agreed to cooperate to successfully host the games in their respective countries. The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to start on February 4 next year.

Olympic organizers have long attempted to isolate the games from politics, touting neutrality as a key tenet of events, but broader issues have sparked debate and even led to big boycotts as recently as 1980 and 1984.

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Japan decided at the last minute to join 64 other countries, including the United States, West Germany, Canada, Norway and China, in boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Four years later, the Soviet Union and its allies responded with their own boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

A Chinese government spokesperson said last month that any attempt to boycott the Beijing Games “will not have the support of the international community and is futile and doomed.”

A gate of what is officially known as a
A gate of what is officially known as a “vocational training center” is pictured in Dabancheng, far west China’s Xinjiang region, in September 2018. The centers have been described by critics as internment camps used to indoctrinate Uyghurs and other Muslims. | REUTERS

As for Japan, its position will likely be informed by several factors, including, but not limited to, the position of the United States and the possibility of a collective boycott.

“Beijing’s general assertive behavior towards Japan and the Indo-Pacific will be the main litmus test of Tokyo’s position,” said Stephen Nagy, an Asian geopolitical expert at Tokyo International Christian University.

This includes his relocations near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, known in China as Diaoyu, as well as the location near Taiwan.

Tokyo may also lean towards a boycott if its economic relations with Beijing deteriorate.

“A downward trajectory would give Tokyo more leeway to consider a boycott without punitive economic measures,” he said, adding that much could also depend on the resumption of COVID-19 in Japan and the political survival of Suga.

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Suga has seen his support rate dip, mostly due to his handling of the country’s response to COVID-19, and pressure mounts as Japan faces a fourth wave of the virus amid a slow vaccine rollout .

A worker sweeps the floor of the National Speed ​​Skating Stadium in Beijing Olympic Park on March 31.  AFP-JIJI
A worker sweeps the floor of the National Speed ​​Skating Stadium in Beijing Olympic Park on March 31. TBEN-JIJI

But unlike last month’s sanctions on China, a high-profile, coordinated US boycott of the Olympics would almost certainly force Tokyo’s hand – no matter who occupies the prime minister’s office.

“If the G7 or the ‘D10’… all decided to boycott, Tokyo would have a hard time not joining,” Nagy said, referring to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposed regrouping of the world’s 10 leading democracies.

Still, Japan might have other options than an outright boycott to send a message to China, such as not participating in the opening or closing ceremonies, said Masahisa Sato, upper house lawmaker and director. from the foreign affairs division of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in an interview last week.

“I wonder if it would be appropriate to participate in all parts of the matches without taking any action, given the current circumstances,” he added.

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