Japan is considering not sending Cabinet ministers to next year's Beijing Olympics in line with a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott amid rising criticism over China's human rights record, government and ruling coalition sources said Saturday.
Japan's actions would see it side with the United States, along with countries including Australia, Britain and Canada, while stopping short of actually being a diplomatic boycott, the sources said.
Various options are being mulled including sending Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and a member of the House of Councillors, or Japanese Olympic Committee head Yasuhiro Yamashita, the sources said.
Keeping in mind the positions of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and tensions between China and the United States, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida may decide on the matter before year-end, the sources said.
In a break from other G-7 nations, France has said it will send high-level officials to the Winter Olympics in February. Paris is due to host the Summer Games in 2024.
Members of Kishida's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been urging him to swiftly make a decision. He has said Japan will decide whether to join the diplomatic boycott based on its "national interests."
Japan is considering explaining that its stance to send representatives, but not ministers, is not a diplomatic boycott, as it seeks to strike a balance in dealing with the United States, its key security ally, and China, its largest trading partner, according to the sources.
One of the government sources said Hashimoto will go to Beijing in her capacity as head of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, not as a government representative, a move that is likely to appear to the United States as being cooperative with the diplomatic boycott.
At the same time, sending Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian who played a key role in the Tokyo Games, to the sports event can also be regarded as Japan's face-saving step for China, the source said.
The International Olympic Committee issued a declaration following the virtual Olympic Summit on Saturday that gathered leading sports representatives, saying it is opposed to politicizing the games.
"The Summit stands firmly against any politicization of the Olympic Games and sport, and strongly emphasized the need for the political neutrality of the IOC, the Olympic Games and the entire Olympic Movement," the IOC said.
Representatives from the national Olympic committees of China, Russia and the United States were also present.
China has urged Japan to support the Beijing Olympics, saying it gave its full support to the Tokyo Games this summer.
Earlier this month, the United States said it has decided on a diplomatic boycott, citing China's alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority and others in its far-western Xinjiang region.
Japan is weighing its decision on the issue in light of China's support for Japan's hosting of the Tokyo Olympics this summer despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tokyo is also being careful to avoid upsetting relations with China ahead of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of their diplomatic ties next year, according to the sources.
For the Tokyo Games, Beijing was initially planning to send Vice Premier Sun Chunlan but eventually decided to send Gou Zhongwen, head of the General Administration of Sport of China.
The sources added the government is considering sending Hashimoto to the International Olympic Committee's meeting scheduled just before the opening of the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 4 and have her stay on there.
Other proposals being floated in the LDP include sending Japan Sports Agency commissioner Koji Murofushi, the sources said.