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Japan to send two ministers — but not Abe — to opening ceremony of Pyeongchang Games: sources

JIJI

The Japanese government plans to send two ministers to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month, instead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sources said Tuesday.

Shunichi Suzuki, minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, and sports minister Yoshimasa Hayashi are expected to attend the Feb. 9 ceremony, the sources said.

During telephone conversations in November last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in invited Abe to visit South Korea to coincide with the games. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also asked Abe to take part in the ceremony when she visited Japan last month.

But Abe now plans to skip the ceremony after Moon urged Japan to take further steps to apologize to “comfort women,” who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels. The request from Seoul came after the two countries reached an agreement in 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve their dispute over the issue.

Speaking to reporters on Monday in Bulgaria on his Eastern European tour, Abe signaled his intention not to attend the Olympics to focus on Diet budget debates.

The government judged it best to dispatch the two ministers in order to avoid damaging cooperation with South Korea over North Korea’s threats and also in consideration of the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Abe is expected to explore the possibility of visiting South Korea to coincide with the Pyeongchang Paralympics set to start on March 9, the sources said.