Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. President Donald Trump during telephone talks on Friday that Japan is preparing to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics as planned despite Trump's one-year postponement suggestion, the top government spokesman said.
In their first conversation about the coronavirus outbreak, Abe and Trump spoke about their respective countries' efforts to contain the pneumonia-causing virus that was found in China late last year, and agreed to work together to prevent its further spread.
The talks, requested by Trump, come amid growing uncertainty over Tokyo's hosting of the games that are due to begin in four months' time. There has been speculation that the viral outbreak, characterized as a "pandemic" by the World Health Organization, has put the games in jeopardy.
"Our government's stance has not changed that we will coordinate closely with the International Olympic Committee, organizers and the Tokyo metropolitan government to steadily proceed with preparations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
"During the telephone conversation, the prime minister mentioned our country's efforts toward holding the events," Suga said, adding that Trump appreciated them. The Tokyo Olympic Games are due to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympic Games from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.
After the roughly 50-minute conversation, Trump tweeted, "Good things will happen for Japan and their great Prime Minister. Lots of options!"
Just had a great conversation with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. I told him that the just completed Olympic venue is magnificent. He has done an incredible job, one that will make him very proud. Good things will happen for Japan and their great Prime Minister. Lots of options!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2020
Abe explained Japan's preventive measures, including school closures and large event cancellations, part of steps to stem a surge in domestic infections in the run-up to the major sports events.
The number of cases in Japan has topped 1,300, with about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a quarantined cruise ship near Tokyo. Last month, the United States evacuated its citizens from the virus-hit ship.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Thursday, Trump said it would be better to postpone the games for a year rather than see "empty stadiums all over the place." The president said he did not raise the issue with Abe.
According to a senior Japanese government official, Abe and Trump did not discuss any postponement during their phone conversation on Friday.
Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics dismissed Trump's call for the games to be postponed by a year.
"While we continue to closely monitor the evolving situation, we would like to continue preparations for a safe and secure Olympics in July as scheduled," the local organizing committee said in a statement.
Japan's Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto also reacted, saying, "Neither the IOC nor the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee are considering postponing or canceling," and added that downsizing or shutting spectators out of events had not been discussed.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said cancelling the Olympics was "not an option" for the metropolitan government and it would continue working with relevant organizations in preparation.
Koike said Trump's comments, though apparently off the cuff, did not come as a shock.
IOC chief Thomas Bach told German television Thursday that his organization had been in regular contact with WHO experts regarding the coronavirus since February, and that they would "follow the advice of the WHO" regarding whether to cancel or postpone this year's Tokyo Olympics over the pandemic.
The pandemic has led to over 120,000 infections in 118 countries and territories, sparking global stock market sell-offs amid fears of a recession.
During the phone conversation, Abe and Trump also exchanged views over the world economy and North Korea's firing of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles in recent days.
The two leaders agreed to continue coordinating closely toward resolving issues surrounding North Korea, the Japanese official said.