Japan PM Suga kicks off Olympics diplomacy, to meet U.S. first lady

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday began a series of meetings over the coming days with foreign dignitaries attending the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, among them U.S. first lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The leaders of about 15 countries and international organizations are slated to attend the event at the National Stadium on Friday evening, which will be held without spectators from the general public as the capital remains under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

Suga is receiving the foreign dignitaries at Akasaka Palace, a neo-baroque state guest house originally built as the crown prince’s residence in 1909.

The prime minister and his wife Mariko will have dinner on Thursday evening with U.S. President Joe Biden’s wife, who is leading the American Olympic delegation.

U.S. first lady Jill Biden. (Getty/Kyodo)

An educator who continues to work as a writing professor at a community college, Jill Biden is visiting Japan for the first time since her husband took office in January. She is scheduled to meet Emperor Naruhito along with other guests at the Imperial Palace on Friday.

Suga is set to meet with Macron on Saturday, when the French president is expected to raise the issue of child abductions by separated parents.

Vincent Fichot, a 39-year-old French national who says his Japanese wife has abducted their two children, has made headlines for going on a hunger strike near the National Stadium in a bid to raise awareness of the issue.

Suga began the three-day marathon of meetings on Thursday with South Sudanese Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, who welcomed the decision to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics despite difficulties posed by COVID-19, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Suga also held separate talks with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene.

The 15 or so world leaders attending the opening ceremony are down from the roughly 40 that attended the same event for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

A senior ministry official said the recent spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants had led many to cancel their trips.

About 70 Cabinet-level officials are also set to visit Japan, though Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, has said the number may not be finalized until the last minute.


Related coverage:

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