THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
June 29, 2021 at 17:10 JST
Jill Biden, wife of U.S. President Joe Biden, in Virginia in September 2020 (Photo by Yuko Lanham)
Tokyo and Washington are coordinating to have U.S. first lady Jill Biden attend the Summer Olympics next month as her husband, U.S. President Joe Biden, has chosen not to come, sources said.?
“If Jill Biden attends, we can make it appear that the Games are being held with a big splash,” a Japanese government official said.
The bilateral efforts come as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has received no commitment from Joe Biden to attend the Games since inviting him in April when they met at their summit in Washington.
Suga, when asked at?an Upper House session in March if he would?invite the U.S. president to the Summer Games, expressed strong hopes that he would attend.
“That is the natural thing to do,” he said, referring to the invitation to Joe Biden.
But Biden avoided giving a definitive answer when Suga asked him at their Washington meeting if he would attend, according to senior officials at the prime minister’s office.
The U.S. government, from the beginning, has not planned on the president visiting Tokyo, as doing so carries little significance more than a goodwill gesture, the sources said.
On June 28, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that Biden will skip the Games, when asked by a reporter.?
Some Japanese government officials have voiced hopes that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris would attend if the president did not.?
But it will not be easy for Harris to travel to Tokyo as she has been busy responding to the issue of illegal immigrants from Central America as an official in charge of the matter.
Jill Biden has emerged as a replacement for her husband after Japanese officials determined that ensuring attendance by a U.S. dignitary close to his status would be essential for the success of the Tokyo Olympics, according to the sources.
Plans are being developed revolving around the U.S. first lady while factoring in the situation of the coronavirus pandemic in Japan.
The United States, like other countries, has in the past sent its leaders and prominent individuals to attend the Olympics.
President George W. Bush attended the 2008 Beijing Olympics.?Secretary of State John Kerry represented the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Vice President Mike Pence flew to South Korea for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. For the 2012 London Olympics, Michelle Obama, wife of President Barack Obama, traveled to Britain.
The Japanese side is preparing for Jill Biden’s attendance while gathering information on the arrangements made for Michelle Obama.
In the course of making preparations, Japanese officials are expected to follow the protocol of limiting the number in the entourage up to 40, including an important dignitary with the status of their country's top leader, as Japan struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus.?
The 40-member cap will not be difficult to deal with if Jill Biden is attending, according to some Japanese officials.
But a senior Foreign Ministry official is skeptical about the limit, citing the need for security personnel if the wife of the sitting U.S. president is coming.
“Given that she is the U.S. first lady, the standard number for an entourage would be in the triple digits,” the official said.
About 80?world leaders took part in the Opening Ceremony for the London Olympics, while about 40 attended it at the Rio Olympics, according to the Foreign Ministry.
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced his attendance at the Tokyo Games as his country is hosting the 2024 Paris Games.
But it remains unclear how many other world leaders will attend the events in the Japanese capital.
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