Japanese and South Koreans living in Beijing have different perspectives on the Winter Olympics, which kicked off in the Chinese capital on Feb. 4.
With relations among the three countries essentially fragile over a number of issues including security, the games seem to be offering a chance for some Japanese to develop a sense of intimacy with Chinese, but it has apparently frustrated South Korea.
Japanese government officials have expressed hope that the popularity in China of figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu and the growing boom of the Beijing Olympic mascot will help deepen people-to-people exchanges between the two nations.
As Tokyo and Beijing mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties this year, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, known as a moderate lawmaker, is believed to be seeking diplomacy that will not irritate the neighboring power.
South Korean people, meanwhile, have become concerned that the Olympics may inflame anti-China sentiment, which has been already spreading at home, as the games have been used for political gain ahead of the presidential election in March.
Before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, conservative lawmakers of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Kishida, urged the government to take part in a "diplomatic boycott" initiated by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
Not sending government officials to the Beijing Olympics is a response to China's alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in its far-western Xinjiang region that Washington has labeled as "genocide."
Even after the Olympics began, there is still criticism of the Communist-led government due largely to its selection of a Uyghur cross-country skier as the final torchbearer as well as what appear to be questionable calls and controversial behavior by Chinese.
Incidents such as Japanese ski jumping starlet Sara Takanashi's disqualification over a suit violation in the mixed team event and the playing of an anti-Japanese song in the women's ice hockey group stage have partially hurt the image of the Olympics, observers say.
Nevertheless, many Japanese in Beijing have become enthusiastic about the games, especially after the nation's media repeatedly reported about Hanyu fever in China and the cuteness of the Olympic mascot in the motif of a panda, "Bing Dwen Dwen."
Hanyu has drawn attention from Chinese citizens since 2014, when he had a sickening clash with a Chinese skater during the official practice before winning the silver medal at the Cup of China in Shanghai, and Chinese fans were upset his eight-year reign as Olympic champion had ended in Beijing.
Wang Chun, a 51-year-old Chinese woman, said, "Hanyu is now much more popular than Ai Fukuhara," a Japanese table tennis player, affectionately nicknamed "Ai-chan" in Japan and "Ai Jang" in China.
Fukuhara, who speaks Chinese fluently with a northeastern accent, is one of the most famous foreign athletes in China where table tennis is a hugely popular sport.
Takako Tanaka, a 42-year-old Japanese woman in Beijing, said, "Just like when we cheered for Ai-chan, I was very happy we could root for Hanyu together with Chinese people at this Olympics. I've felt a sense of closeness to the Chinese."
As for Bing Dwen Dwen, Tanaka said it is "much cuter" than the blue-and-white mascot for last year's Tokyo Summer Olympics, called "Miraitowa." It made her realize China's "artistic excellence" more than ever, she added.
In 2019, Japan tapped its boy band Arashi, which is now dormant but still popular in China, as a goodwill ambassador to promote cultural and sports exchanges between the two Asian nations, whose relations have been often frayed over territorial and wartime issues.
Unfortunately, Arashi was unable to fulfil the role in the face of the novel coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, a Japanese government source said.
Recently, Japan and mainland China have been at loggerheads over matters including Beijing's alleged unfair business practices, the human rights situations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as security challenges to Taiwan.
But in the run-up to the anniversary of diplomatic normalization in September, the Japanese government source is hoping Hanyu will serve as goodwill ambassador to China.
While the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics put a young female young Uyghur skier in the spotlight, many Japanese social media users praised the event.
For South Koreans, however, the gala orchestrated by China's renowned film director Zhang Yimou was a "nightmare," said 43-year-old Seoul-native Kim Hwang Sung.
Moreover, the ensuing games have "annoyed" his South Korean friends, he said.
At the opening ceremony, a performer, clad in a traditional Korean "hanbok" dress, showed up, sparking anger among South Korean people, some of whom regarded it as cultural appropriation by China.
South Korea has filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the disqualification of the country's athletes in the semifinals of the men's 1,000 meters short-track speed skating race.
Prior to South Korea's presidential election, candidates have started to use such moves to obtain support from anti-China young voters whose decisions would sway the fate of the campaign, Kim said.
"Japanese might be fed up with China's opaque operations of the Beijing Olympics like South Korean. In that case, South Korea and Japan may get closer" as proverb says, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," he added.
Japan-South Korea ties have deteriorated sharply in recent years over unresolved historical grievances and other disputes, while Seoul has pursued balanced diplomacy with China and the United States amid tensions between the world's two major powers.
In an obvious bid to prevent bilateral relations from worsening further, China's Embassy in Seoul released a statement to congratulate a South Korean athlete for winning his country's first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in the men's 1,500m short-track event.