Stuck at an Olympic crossroads

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Stuck at an Olympic crossroads

Yoon Seol-young
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the Joongang Ilbo.

Japanese government officials talk about “X-day,” the day that Tokyo announces the cancellation of the Olympics and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigns. The government’s prediction, “Once the Olympic begins, the mood will change,” is likely to be wrong. Suga’s dream to ride the Olympic mood, be reelected as the Liberal Democratic Party chair and snatch a landslide victory in the parliamentary election is also likely to be a dream.

The situation has completely changed over the last two months. An opinion poll announced on May 31 showed that the approval rating for the Suga cabinet was 40 percent, a 7 percent drop from the previous month. The Nikei Shimbun harshly condemned its Covid-19 measures, calling it a “third defeat” after the World War II defeat in 1945 and the economic defeat in the 1990s.

All circumstances indicate the need to cancel the Olympics, but X-day is not likely to come. The Suga government basically believes that hosting the Olympic Games won’t affect the spread of Covid-19 much. Less than 100,000 people will visit Japan during the Olympic period, which is about half of the original estimate, and they will move within the “bubble” according to the plan. Test events have been held, and there was no evidence that they caused the spread of coronavirus, the government claims.

Tokyo thinks that the Japanese are anxious because of the government’s communication issue, and holds some media accountable for encouraging uneasiness.

Japan does not want to imagine a situation where it cancels the Tokyo Olympics and then the Beijing Winter Olympics is held normally half a year later. It is more than just losing the “symbol of fighting and beating the coronavirus” to China. Narushige Michishita, vice dean at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said that if the Tokyo Olympics is cancelled and the Beijing Winter Olympics is held as scheduled, it would be a symbolic power shift in Asia, as “Japan is the setting Sun and China is the rising dragon.” Tokyo sees this as the plan to reemerge as Asia’s No. 1 turning into a perfect defeat in the power game.

The Suga government is in a dilemma as the conservative right wing demands the Olympics go ahead while ordinary citizens oppose it. Without a solid support base that Shinzo Abe had, public opinion is everything for the Suga government. Only 51 days are left to think about how to overcome the chaos before the opening of the Olympics.

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