Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday he has “no plans” to attend the Winter Olympics that kick off in Beijing in just two months, befitting the leader of a country that relies on the U.S. for its national security but counts China as its biggest market and trading partner.
“At the moment,” Mr. Kishida added when questioned by an opposition lawmaker in the Diet.
Mr. Kishida‘s plans are being closely watched a week after the Biden administration confirmed it was staging a “diplomatic boycott” of China‘s games, allowing American athletes to compete but barring any presence by U.S. government and diplomatic officials.
Several close U.S. allies, including Britain, Canada and Australia, quickly followed suit, while others, including South Korea and France, have rejected the idea.
Japan’s final decision has been slow in coming, as Mr. Kishida — in office only a few months — has coveted an invitation to Washington to affirm his status but is clearly anxious about angering China, which has put great emphasis on its role as host and sharply denounced the U.S.-led boycott.
Japanese press accounts say the government is weighing some kind of modified scaling back of its delegation, perhaps sending members of the legislature and Olympic Committee while Mr. Kishida and the Cabinet stay home.
Mr. Kishida was clearly temporizing Thursday.
“It is important to make a judgment by myself at an appropriate time after comprehensively taking into account various issues in consideration of the national interest,” he told lawmakers, according to the Kyodo news service.
That response did not spare him from a sharp rebuke from China‘s Foreign Ministry, which said through a spokesman later Thursday that attempts to politicize the Beijing Games represented a betrayal of the spirit of the Olympic Charter.
The U.S. said it launched the boycott to protest China‘s human rights record, particularly its treatment of the minority ethnic Mulsim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, as well as its aggressive regional policies such as recent efforts to intimidate Taiwan.
At least one foreign leader has stepped up in China‘s defense in the clash of wills with Washington. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a video conference with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday that he would personally attend the Games’ Opening Ceremony and hold talks with Mr. Xi while there.