By Kyoko Hasegawa

Japan said Friday it will not send government representatives to February’s Beijing Olympics as it called on China to respect human rights and the rule of law.

Government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno did not describe the move as a diplomatic boycott — already announced by the US and others — but said there were “no plans” for officials to attend the Games.

Beijing stadium spectator seats
People walk past spectator seating at the Shougang Big Air venue in Beijing on December 15, 2021. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP

“Japan believes it is important that common values shared by the international community such as freedom, human rights, and the rule of law are also respected in China,” he said.

“As Tokyo 2020 demonstrated to the world, the Olympics and the Paralympics are festivals of peace and sports that give courage to the world.”

The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada this month announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games over what they consider to be widespread rights abuses by China, including against the Muslim Uyghur minority.

Their boycott stops short of not sending athletes to the Winter Games, which start on February 4.

Uyghur Uighur Xinjiang detention centre reeducation camp
File photo posted by the Xinjiang Judicial Administration to its WeChat account, April 2017, showing detainees at a camp in Lop county, Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang. Photo: RFA, Oct. 2, 2018; cf. WaybackMachine Internet Archive, April 17, 2017.

But Beijing has warned the four nations will “pay the price” for the US-led campaign.

Japan, which hosted the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics this year, is in a tricky position as tensions simmer between the US and China — both key trade partners.

Matsuno said Friday’s decision had been made after “comprehensive” consideration, noting that Japan has held discussions with the Chinese side on human rights issues “at various levels”.

‘Respect to the athletes’

“Hashimoto will attend to express gratitude and respect to the athletes and others who supported the Tokyo Games,” Matsuno said.

Japan Paralympic Committee chief Kazuyuki Mori will attend the Winter Paralympics in March, he added.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the country “welcomes the Japanese Olympic Committee and other relevant officials, as well as Japanese athletes”, but also sounded a note of caution over the decision.

“China… urges the Japanese side to honour promises to support each other in hosting the Olympic Games and to not politicise sports,” he said.

Zhao Lijian
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian. File photo: China MFA.

Washington has said its diplomatic boycott decision was prompted by rights abuses such as what it has called the “genocide” of the Uyghur minority.

Not all US allies have followed suit, however. Last week South Korea ruled out joining the boycott, citing the need to work with China.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also set to attend the Games, as are senior French officials.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said this month he was staying politically neutral on the matter, insisting the important point was “the participation of the athletes”.

Foreign fans will be banned at the Winter Games under virus rules and the event will take place after several crackdowns — including in Hong Kong — designed to consolidate President Xi Jinping’s power.

Campaigners say at least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in the far western Xinjiang region.

Beijing has defended the camps as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

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