West News Wire: Japan said on Friday that it will not send a government delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, escalating tensions with China.

The decision comes after a diplomatic boycott of the Games sponsored by the United States over concerns about human rights in China, though Japan has avoided labelling its decision as such.

While Japan is a close ally of the US, it also has substantial commercial links with China.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Tokyo will not send a government delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics, but would instead send certain people with direct links to the Olympics.

Seiko Hashimoto, the chairman of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, is among the officials, as are the presidents of the domestic Olympic and Paralympic organizations.

“Japan believes that ensuring freedom, respect for basic human rights, and the rule of law, which are universal principles, is critical for China.” Matsuno said.

Japan was addressing such issues with China directly at various levels he added, saying that this year’s Tokyo Games showed the Olympics and Paralympics were a celebration of peace and sports that give courage to the world.

“Japan’s government decided on its response to the Beijing Winter Olympics by taking those points into consideration, and deciding on its own,” he said.

The absence of Japanese officials was not taken under any “specific term” Matsuno said, indicating that the government was not calling the move a boycott.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told a regular news conference that China welcomed the Olympic officials and athletes from Japan.

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China did not send a government delegation to the Tokyo Summer Olympics this year, but only a sports delegation, led by the sports bureau chief.

Japan has typically taken a softer tone on the issue of human rights in China, reflecting its widespread dependence on China, not only as a manufacturing hub, but as a market for items from automobiles to construction equipment.

Still, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has faced rising pressure within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to take a tougher stance on China, public broadcaster NHK said.

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