BEIJING (Kyodo) — The key to the success of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics lies in how China-Japan ties will develop after the Tokyo Summer Games, with the Asian powers recently at odds over major issues including Taiwan and Xinjiang.
The leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been keen to use the Beijing Olympics to enhance national prestige, is expected to be forced to manage a well-balanced diplomatic strategy toward Japan until the sports events in February next year.
A deterioration of bilateral relations may prompt Japan to deepen cooperation with the United States in containing China’s global and regional influence, probably thwarting Xi’s efforts to host the Winter Games in a complete form.
Should China intensify tensions with the United States and its close ally Japan, the two democratic countries could boycott the Beijing Olympics, which would take a heavy toll on the mainland government, diplomatic sources say.
In Japan, ordinary citizens have become more unfavorable to China due largely to discomfort with Communist one-party rule and cyberbullying apparently by Chinese people against Japanese athletes during the Tokyo Olympics.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has been eager to gain public support ahead of a House of Representatives election that must be held by this autumn, could dare to decide to boycott the Beijing Games if anti-China sentiment grows at home, the sources say.
To avoid the worst-case scenario that would erode the authority of the ruling party, China might ostensibly take a soft approach to Japan for now, while it has actually been irritated by the neighbor’s accusations against what it calls its internal affairs, they add.
For years, China has extended an olive branch to Japan, as its relations with the United States have worsened over several matters such as its alleged unfair trade practices, human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as security challenges to Taiwan.
Xi, however, has become frustrated by Japan since Suga, who took office in September 2020, confirmed with U.S. President Joe Biden at their summit in Washington in April “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
It marked the first time in 52 years that Japanese and U.S. leaders have mentioned democratic Taiwan in a joint statement.
Tokyo, meanwhile, has repeatedly voiced concern over Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the far western Xinjiang region, which Washington has described as a “genocide.”
Late last month, Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe, who attempted to restore ties with China when he served as prime minister for more than seven years from December 2012, also took a jab at the mainland’s provocations against self-ruled Taiwan.
“We must prevent what happened in Hong Kong from happening in Taiwan,” Abe said during an online forum.
A Japanese scholar familiar with Sino-Japanese relations said, “Taiwan is a core interest of China but Japan has meddled in the issue and others, so Xi’s leadership now thinks it is no longer possible to maintain the positive momentum in bilateral ties.”
China has already taken countermeasures against Suga’s political proximity to the Biden administration, the scholar said, adding that for example, Beijing did not send a high-ranking official to the July 23 opening ceremony of the 17-day Tokyo Olympics.
There is also a rumor that the Chinese government has requested the nation’s state-run media to report “bad aspects” of the Tokyo Games, he said.
Indeed, Chinese social media users have unleashed a new wave of hostility against Japanese athletes, especially after Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito won the gold medal in the table tennis mixed doubles final by beating the Chinese pair, the South China Morning Post said.
Japan invaded a huge swath of China before the end of World War II that lasted until 1945. Against a backdrop of anti-Japanese education by the Communist Party, a majority of Chinese are thought to basically harbor negative feelings about Japan.
Under such circumstances, the number of Japanese unfavorable to mainland China has been increasing.
The ratio of Japanese who have “negative opinions of China” was 88 percent, according to a survey by U.S. think tank Pew Research Center, conducted from Feb. 1 to May 26 this year among 18,850 adults in 17 advanced economies.
“Many Japanese citizens have begun to have an aversion to the Communist Party’s aggressive and assertive posture toward Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang. In addition to it, cyberbullying has given anti-China forces a new burst of energy,” a diplomatic source said.
“In the run-up to the lower house election, Suga could take this as a good chance to attract voters. The possibility cannot be ruled out that he will announce that Japan would boycott the Beijing Olympics if the United States decides to do so,” the source said.
Another diplomatic source said China “does not want to hold a large-scale athlete festival only for Chinese people” and it expects “Japan will participate in the Beijing Games,” adding Xi would try to avert friction with Japan before the events.
In late July, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted China’s ambassador to Japan, Kong Xuanyou, as saying at a symposium in Tokyo that he hopes Japan would adopt a correct perception of China and implement positive policies toward it.
China always develops its relations with Japan with goodwill and sincerity, Kong said, asking Japan to translate its positive remarks on growing steady ties with China into actions and demonstrate them via concrete policies, Xinhua reported.
As for the Tokyo Summer Olympics held without spectators at almost all venues, China, which will receive the baton from the neighbor as host country, has reiterated that it supports Japan in successfully organizing the games.