Japan has opted out of joining the United States, Britain and others in issuing a statement to condemn China for moving to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, apparently to avoid creating friction with Beijing, officials from countries involved said Saturday.
Tokyo's decision has been received with dismay by Washington among others, underscoring the difficult balancing act Japan faces in managing its relations with the United States, its key security ally, and China, its neighbor and the world's second-largest economy.
A further rise in tension between China and the United States over the Hong Kong issue could also complicate Japan's plan to receive Chinese President Xi Jinping as a state guest. No date has been set after the visit was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 28, when the Chinese parliament endorsed the decision to introduce the legislation, the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada issued a statement expressing their "deep concern" over the move and warned that it could "dramatically erode" Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy guaranteed under China's "one country, two systems" policy.
According to one of the officials, representatives of the Japanese government had been approached in a backroom to take part in the release of the statement, but rejected the offer.
"Japan was probably more focused on its relationship with China. But, to be frank, we were disappointed," the official said.
Japan, meanwhile, expressed its "serious concerns" about China's push to impose the law on Hong Kong during a press conference by top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on May 28.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian strongly criticized the joint statement, telling a press conference on May 29 that "the unwarranted comments and accusations made by the relevant countries constitute a flagrant interference in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs."
He also issued a veiled warning to Tokyo to distance itself from the United States and European countries in dealing with sensitive issues, saying Beijing hopes "the Japanese side will create sound conditions and atmosphere" to realize Xi's visit to Japan.
Under China's "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong was promised it would enjoy the rights and freedoms of a semiautonomous region for 50 years following the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.
But the national security law banning separatism, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong is feared to provide Beijing with more opportunities to erode freedoms and human rights in the territory.