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Awareness of human rights violations is low among the Chinese public despite growing criticism from the international community over the issue ahead of the Beijing Olympics in February next year, a former Japanese ambassador to China has said.

Yuji Miyamoto, who filled the ambassador position at the time of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, said in an interview in late October that the continued criticism over the human rights situation in China could lead Chinese people to be less willing to build full-fledged relations with the international community.

In Europe and the United States, calls have been increasing for a “diplomatic boycott” of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, to condemn the Chinese government for its human rights violations.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China wanted to gain global recognition as an economically developed country, Miyamoto said. “With moral education given to citizens and buildings put up by the world’s most renowned architects, Beijing changed,” he recalled.

“Chinese people felt proud of having staged the Olympics and became confident that they could pursue further development,” he continued.

Miyamoto said that the Chinese government is aiming to enhance national prestige and confidence again through the upcoming Winter Games.

“Olympics attract attention from all over the world. China apparently got a taste for staging an Olympics” through the 2008 Games, he also said.

Asked about how people in China are taking criticism over the persecution of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, Miyamoto said the issue is “not regarded as a human rights violation problem” in the country.

He explained that Chinese people believe the Uyghur issue is a matter of suppressing Islamic extremists who may commit terror attacks due to their dissatisfaction with the governance of the Chinese Communist Party.

“In 2008, Chinese nationals were angry as they did not understand why people tried to damage their country’s reputation and make false accusations against them,” Miyamoto recalled.

He also said that the administration of then Chinese President Hu Jintao “made efforts to minimize discontent in the country amid growing nationalism and ease criticism by making explanations to the international community.”

“Under the administration of (current Chinese President) Xi Jinping, international relations are more strained,” he pointed out.

“There are many factors that may lead Chinese people to stay away from the international community, and (the Chinese public) may give up on building full-fledged ties with the rest of the world and choose to detach themselves. The Chinese government, however, does not want to go that far,” he went on to say.

On revived calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics by not sending senior government officials to the sporting event, Miyamoto noted that China’s growth brought profits to companies in Japan, Europe and the U.S. at the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The world cannot abandon such a huge market, he said, noting that ambassadors across the world were basically united in attending the 2008 Olympics. “I don’t think the international community would worsen relations with China by going as far as sacrificing economic profits,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Miyamoto suggested that the U.S. government “may harden its stance” against China if it judges it can gain an advantage by doing this for next year’s mid-term election.

The focus is on how U.S. President Joe Biden will work on the task of getting China to buy U.S. products after the assessment of the so-called phase-one trade agreement between the world’s two largest powers started, he said.

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