Japan announced Friday it won't send a delegation of ministers to represent the government at the Beijing Games but three Olympic officials will attend, a decision that follows a U.S.-led move to diplomatically boycott the Games to protest China's human rights conditions.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular news conference that “we have no plans to send a government delegation.”
He said Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto, Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita and Japan Paralympic Committee president Kazuyuki Mori will attend.
Matsuno said the three officials will attend at the invitation of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees to represent the JOC and JPC.
Asked if it’s a diplomatic boycott, Matsuno responded by saying: “We don’t use a particular term to describe how we attend.”
Japan's decision not to send a government delegation follows a similar move by the United States and some other democratic nations including Australia, Britain and Canada, which cited China's human rights violations.
The Chinese foreign ministry appealed to Tokyo not to politicize sports.
“We hope and urge the Japanese side to honor its commitment with China to supporting each other in hosting the Olympic Games and not politicizing sports,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “China is confident in working with all sides to uphold the Olympic spirit of ‘together’ and present the world a streamlined, safe and splendid Olympic Games.”
Japan, as both a U.S. ally and with China its biggest trade partner, is in a difficult position and has taken a softer approach than its western partners on human rights situations in China's Xinjiang region and Hong Kong.
Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has made human rights a key part of his diplomacy and created a special advisory position to tackle the issue and has said he hopes to make constructive relations with China. He has been repeatedly asked what to do about the Beijing Olympics in recent weeks but only said he was to make a decision comprehensively for Japan's national interest.
“Japan believes that it is important for China to guarantee the universal values of freedom, respect for basic human rights, and the rule of law, which are universal values in the international community,” Kishida said later Friday.
Japan took those points into consideration and made its own decision, he added.
Kishida has faced growing calls from the China hawks within his governing party as well as opposition lawmakers to quickly make a decision to diplomatically boycott the Beijing Games.
China has criticized the United States and other countries for violating political neutrality required in the spirit of the Olympic Charter.
Japanese athletes will take part in the Games, which are scheduled to open on Feb. 4.
“Japan hopes the Beijing Olympics will be held as the festival of peace in the spirit of Olympics and Paralympics,” Matsuno said.