China Tells Japan to Repay Faith as Tokyo Conservatives Seek Olympic Boycott

China is pushing Japan to "demonstrate its basic faith,'' following reports that Tokyo is considering a quasi-diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 by dispatching only low-level officials.

The conservative wing of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including its largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is pushing for an official boycott of the Winter Olympics, after the United States' decision was followed by Australia, Britain and Canada this week.

In response to a Sankei Shimbun report, in which the Japanese government was said to be mulling an Olympic delegation without any cabinet members, China said on Thursday that it opposed the "politicization of sport under the pretext of so-called 'human rights and freedom.'"

"China and Japan have an important consensus on mutual support for each other's hosting of the Olympic Games," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. "China offered its full support to Japan's hosting of the Tokyo Olympics. Now it is Japan's turn to demonstrate its basic faith."

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have cooled in recent years over Chinese coast guard incursions into the waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China also claims. Beijing has complained about Tokyo's role in the Quad grouping with the U.S., India and Australia, as well as its growing ties with democratic Taiwan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Thursday that LDP conservatives are pressuring the country's newly elected prime minister, Fumio Kishida, to take a harder line on China. Abe's faction played a key role in electing Kishida—his former foreign minister—while Abe's preferred candidate, Sanae Takaichi, was appointed the party's policy head instead.

Takaichi has backed a diplomatic boycott of the games, which open in Beijing in under two months, The Yomiuri said. Officials supporting the call have, like the U.S., cited China's poor human rights record.

U.S.-Japan Alliance

The newspaper quoted LDP foreign affairs chief Masahisa Sato as saying: "The participation of state leaders and cabinet ministers in the Olympics will not send a good message."

Kishida, once considered a China dove, promised during his campaign to oppose Beijing's assertive approaches in the skies and seas around Japan. He also offered a full-throated endorsement of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

He continues to face scrutiny over his appointment of Yoshimasa Hayashi as Japan's foreign minister. Hayashi led a Japan-China parliamentary group—which some considered unbefitting in the current climate of increased skepticism toward Beijing. Others, however, see his role as Kishida's way of striking a necessary balance in the relationship.

Analysts are also watching Hayashi's potential visit to China next year, as well as a trip to Tokyo by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China Cautious Japan Against Beijing Olympic Boycott
Left: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Right: Chinese President Xi Jinping. JIJI PRESS, Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images, AFP via Getty Images