• Jiji, Kyodo

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The spread of the omicron coronavirus variant has started to cast a shadow over the Japanese government's diplomatic schedule, leading to a sense of disappointment among Foreign Ministry officials, especially since the emergence of the new variant came only weeks after Japan had the delta variant under control.

Late last month, countries around the world beefed up their border control measures amid heightened concerns over the omicron variant.

A ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, originally set to be held between late November and early December, was postponed due to the introduction of tighter travel restrictions by host Switzerland.

Due to the postponement, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi's first overseas trip since taking office last month has been called off.

So far, two cases of infections with the new variant, which scientists fear may be more transmissible than other strains, have been confirmed in Japan.

The spread of the omicron variant may also thwart Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's original plan to visit the United States by the end of this year.

The main focus of Japan's diplomatic schedule is on Kishida's U.S. trip.

At a brief meeting in Britain in November, Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to arrange a trip by the Japanese prime minister to the United States.

A diplomatic source, however, said that countries are now taking measures in advance, indicating that the trip may not take place, depending on the actions of the United States.

"Nothing has been decided yet," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The government has also scrapped its plan to send former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a special envoy to Malaysia this month, a person familiar with the decision said Wednesday.

Abe had been slated to make the visit as next year marks 65 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Malaysia.

A meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers will be held in Liverpool, England, from Dec. 10.

While ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be invited to join the G7 ministers to discuss the situation in the Indo-Pacific region, including issues related to China, a Japanese government source said that the British government "seems to be facing a dilemma" over the meeting.

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