Chance of Moon going to Tokyo Olympics falls to zero

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Chance of Moon going to Tokyo Olympics falls to zero

In this file photo, President Moon Jae-in, left, attends an expanded Group of Seven summit on June 13 in Cornwall, Britain. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also attended.  [YONHAP]

In this file photo, President Moon Jae-in, left, attends an expanded Group of Seven summit on June 13 in Cornwall, Britain. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also attended. [YONHAP]

 
There is an "almost zero" chance that President Moon Jae-in will travel to Japan for the Olympics, government sources told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. Culture and Sports Minister Hwang Hee will go instead.
 
“We have finalized a plan that Minister Hwang will attend the opening ceremony [on July 23],” a high-ranking government official told the JoongAng Ilbo in a phone conversation. “For now, there is almost zero possibility that Moon will attend the opening event.”  
 
The source said the government decided to send an envoy based on the principle that politics and sports are separate issues. After Japan refused to remove the Dokdo islets from a map on the official Tokyo Summer Olympics website, political heavyweights, even from the ruling party, demanded that Korea boycott the games. 
 
Another key administration member told the JoongAng Ilbo that there is currently no discussion inside the government about Moon attending the opening ceremony. “Already most duties related to the Olympics, including support events for the athletes, were handed over from the Blue House to the Prime Minister’s Office,” the source said.
 
The Blue House maintains that nothing has been decided on Moon’s possible travel to Japan. But presidential sources said Moon will not visit Japan unless he was guaranteed a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the trip.  
 
“Whether there will be a summit or not will be the final factor that will decide Moon’s attending of the Tokyo Olympics Games’ opening,” a senior presidential aide told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. “It is realistic to say that there is no momentum for Moon’s visit to Japan other than a summit.”  
 
The source said the government has repeatedly told Japan the importance of restoring Korea-Japan relations through a summit, but Japan is exploiting Korea’s diplomatic messages for domestic political purposes. “If Suga continues to avoid talks with Moon, the Japanese government should take all responsibility for the delay in restoration of bilateral ties,” the source said.  
 
During his participation in a Group of Seven summit in England from June 11 to 13, Moon approached Suga a few times. After Suga avoided him and no substantial meeting took place, Moon said it was regretful that “a valuable opportunity for a new start of Korea-Japan relations” was wasted.  
 
The presidential source said the administration is keeping in mind that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Korea for the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018. “If Moon won’t visit Japan, we will think about a higher-ranking official’s visit to Japan in addition to Minister Hwang,” the source said.
 
In this file photo, President Moon Jae-in, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stand for a photo before their summit in Yongpyeong, Gangwon Province, on the sidelines of PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in 2018.  [Presidential Press Corps]

In this file photo, President Moon Jae-in, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stand for a photo before their summit in Yongpyeong, Gangwon Province, on the sidelines of PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in 2018. [Presidential Press Corps]

Moon last visited Japan in June 2019 to attend a Group of 20 summit that Abe hosted in Osaka. At the time, Moon had an eight-second handshake with Abe, as the Japanese leader made clear his intention to snub his Korean counterpart. No bilateral summit, not even a brief pull-aside meeting on the sidelines of the main conference, took place.  
 
The last Korea-Japan summit was in December 2019, when Moon met with Abe on the sidelines of a Korea-Japan-China summit in Chengdu, China.  
 
Meanwhile, Kyodo News Agency of Japan reported Tuesday that Seoul and Tokyo are talking about a possible Moon visit.
 
Quoting diplomatic sources, the report said Korea conveyed to Japan earlier this month that Moon is considering attending the opening ceremony in return for Abe’s trip to Korea in 2018. While Korea hopes to use Moon’s trip as an opportunity for a summit, Japan is reluctant to accept the request, the report said.  
 
BY KANG TAE-HWA, SER MYO-JA   [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]  
 
 
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