What does Abe want from Olympics trip?

By Wang Chong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/30 20:33:39

The Olympics, whether the Summer or Winter Games, is celebrated the world over, and the host country hopes that all heads of state can participate in the event to highlight their importance.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics is no exception. While the leaders of China, Russia and the US will be absent, whether Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend the Games, which kick off on February 9, has become a focus of attention in South Korea.

Earlier, it was reported that Abe would not attend the event due to the row between Japan and South Korea over the "comfort women" issue. However, he later made a U-turn by saying he would attend. What made him change his mind?

The first reason may be the North Korean nuclear issue. Recently, South and North Korea saw signs of easing tensions. They held talks at the truce village of Panmunjom and agreed to march their athletes together under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Games and to field a joint women's ice hockey team.

Some South Korean media mocked that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been manipulating the situation on the Korean Peninsula all along.

This is the last thing that Japan wants to see. Japan is not a key player in the nuclear issue, but it does not want to be excluded as Japan is wary of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. Under the circumstances of a thaw in South-North ties, Japan is striving to have its say.

In 2020, Tokyo will hold the Summer Olympics and Japan is keen to see the participation of all world leaders. As neighbors, South Korea and Japan jointly held the FIFA World Cup in 2002. Japan hopes that South Korean leaders can attend the Tokyo Olympics, so it has to make an example first. If Abe attends the PyeongChang Olympics, then the South Korean president would have no reason not to attend the Tokyo Games.

The US factor also matters. It is said that US President Donald Trump hopes Abe can go to PyeongChang so ties between Japan and South Korea, two US allies in East Asia, can improve. The US does not want to see a disharmonious relationship between its two allies due to the "comfort women" controversy and territorial disputes.

The triangular relations among China, Japan and South Korea also play a role. None of the three wishes to see strained ties with the other two simultaneously. Both Japan and China are endeavoring to improve ties with South Korea. With the rebound in Beijing-Seoul relations, Japan feels it is more urgent to repair ties with South Korea.

Whatever the real reason is, it shows Japan places high importance on its relations with South Korea. Abe had viewed the "comfort women" deal his administration signed with Park Geun-hye government in 2015 as a major diplomatic victory. After President Moon Jae-in took office, he was not willing to implement the deal, embarrassing Abe immensely. That is why Abe decided not to attend the PyeongChang Olympics in the first place. In other words, Abe was supposed to attend if not for the change to the "comfort women" deal.

Now that Abe has changed his mind, he will not go for nothing. On the opening day of the Winter Games, he will hold talks with Moon about the "comfort women" issue.

For South Korea, Abe's presence is a favor. Therefore, it is possible that the two will make some compromise in the "comfort women" impasse.

The author is a senior research fellow of the Charhar Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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