Fear of being upstaged by China fuels Japan’s Olympics push

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There are many the explanation why Japan is set to carry the already-delayed Tokyo Olympics this summer season, however one that’s seldom mentioned publicly: China.

Beijing is about to host the Winter Games subsequent yr, and China has made it clear that it plans to push forward, with the virus largely contained inside its borders.

That’s caught the eye of Japanese authorities officers, who’ve been citing China’s elevated publicity for the Winter Olympics of their conversations with organizers of the Tokyo Games, in keeping with an individual concerned in planning for the three-week sporting bonanza, attributable to begin July 23. Organizers see that as an indication Japan needs to plow forward with the Games regardless of the continuing pandemic, mentioned the particular person, asking to not be recognized as a result of these issues aren’t being mentioned publicly.

Meant to herald a return to the worldwide highlight for Asia’s No. 2 economic system, the Tokyo Olympics have as an alternative grow to be a headache for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s authorities. Ongoing outbreaks in lots of locations, together with Japan, have put a query mark over whether or not the video games ought to go forward as deliberate.

While organizers have issued protocols for the way it plans to guard athletes and the general public — together with common testing and a system of bubbles — the pandemic has made the Olympics extra of a take a look at of whether or not it might probably management the virus. That’s fueling a low-grade geopolitical rivalry between China, which has a zero-tolerance strategy to snuffing out the pathogen, and Japan, the place on a regular basis life has been much less disrupted however coronavirus instances persist.

“The weight of China, especially among Japan’s conservatives, is quite immense in terms of the way they see their own position and the way they see Japan,” mentioned David Leheny, a politics professor at Waseda University. “If Japan isn’t able to have the Olympics because it hasn’t handled it well or vaccination hasn’t proceeded quickly enough — and if China is able to do that, it’s just going to be another blow.”

Representatives for the prime minister’s workplace and native Olympics committee didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark.

China is by far Japan’s largest buying and selling companion, and likewise one of its largest safety threats, with ships from each nations tailing each other round disputed East China Sea islands each day. While Japan can not hope to compete with China in phrases of financial measurement or navy would possibly, it will in regular occasions at the least have stood a superb probability of throwing a greater get together.

Japan’s worry of shedding face towards its closest regional rival has upped the ante for the Summer Games. The Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed nearly a yr in the past, faces low public help, a sudden change in management after a sexism scandal and the chance of a spectator-free occasion with little pomp or pizazz.

For the nation of 126 million, the Olympics was meant to showcase Japan’s re-emergence from twenty years of stagnation and remind the world of its clout because the third-biggest economic system. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been seen as touchstones that marked every nation’s emergence onto the worldwide stage as rising powers.

“Japan will hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer,” Suga mentioned on Jan. 29 in a web-based session on the World Economic Forum. “I’m determined to make it happen as a sign of humanity’s triumph over the new coronavirus.”

In one portentous signal, the International Olympic Committee in early February modified its Twitter banner picture to advertise the Beijing Games. Japanese media instantly seized on the change and fretted over what it meant. The IOC modified the picture again to the Tokyo occasion, saying it was carried out quickly to mark the one-year countdown to the Winter Games.

The scaling again of the video games — the torch relay kicking off March 25 is not going to permit spectators to cheer — additionally displays broader issues over gathering in massive numbers. A FNN ballot in late February discovered that solely 28% of Japanese help holding the Olympics.

It’s unlikely {that a} majority of Japan’s inhabitants will likely be vaccinated by the time the video games are set to begin — driving up the general public well being dangers and doubtlessly undermining help much more. A call on whether or not worldwide spectators will likely be allowed into Japan most likely gained’t be made till the top of April.

A person carrying protecting masks walks previous banners of the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games exterior the Tokyo Metropolitan Government constructing in Tokyo. (NYT)

“Japan is in a real bind here on this, no matter what they do,” Leheny mentioned. “It’s not going to be the awesome return to international glory they were imagining when they were thinking this was going to be the next 1964.”

The stakes are additionally excessive for China. Although the Winter Games carry much less weight than the summer season, a profitable occasion will make Beijing the one metropolis to have hosted each. It may also provide an opportunity for China to enhance its picture after a yr of being forged because the supply of the virus.

The Beijing Winter Olympics are additionally being clouded by studies of the federal government’s persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority, which has been described as genocide by some nations. Activist teams have begun calling for a boycott, and it stays to be seen whether or not different nations comply with swimsuit, most notably Canada. The North American nation’s determination to not ship a group to the Tokyo Olympics final yr was seen as a key cause for delaying the video games.
In late January, Chinese President Xi Jinping toured his nation’s Olympics venues and delivered a transparent message: the Winter video games will occur it doesn’t matter what.

“Not only will we host a successful Winter Olympic extravaganza,” Xi mentioned on Jan. 19. “But also a distinctive, spectacular and unique games.”

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