The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were supposed to show Japan’s resilience in the face of major setbacks and be a crowning event at the end of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term, but the COVID-19 pandemic and a year-long delay threatened that narrative. Miria Solis, director of the Center for East Asian Policy Studies at Brookings, joins David Dollar to discuss the political and economic background to these Olympics. Solis explains why it is important for Japan to tell the story of renewal after the 2011 triple disaster and recession. It also describes what the Olympics mean for current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and for Japan’s relations with other countries in the region.
David Dollar: Hi, I’m David Dollar, host of the Brookings Trade Podcast dollar and sense. Today we will talk about the Tokyo Olympics and what they mean for Japan. My guest is Miria Solis, director of the Center for East Asian Policy Studies and a Japan Chair at the Brookings Institution. Welcome to the show, Miria.
MIREYA SOLÍS: Thank you very much, David. It is my pleasure to be here.
dollar: So Mireya, I wrote recently Brookings Blog That every Olympics has a story or a story, and I agree with that. This has been a long pregnancy Olympiad. Before the pandemic, what was the story or narrative? How does this fit into Japanese politics and the story of Japan?
single: Thank you, David. In the article I referenced that I wrote with Laura McGhee, the point we made is that initially the narrative was about recovery and renewal. Recovering from the major shock suffered by Japan with a triple disaster in 2011. There was an earthquake, a tsunami, and then a nuclear accident. Thus, when Japan was bidding in 2013, it was trying to tell the world that it was back from that major setback. Japan is resilient enough and therefore the world should come and see how much progress Japan has made in rebuilding. The message was strong Japan, safe Japan.
There was also a story about renewal, which was very important to Japanese politics and foreign policy. The idea here – what Japan wanted to tell the world, David – is that it was leaving behind the so-called lost decades when the Japanese economy went astray, when Japan was paralyzed by political instability, and when that buoyant Japan seemed. to a sudden stop. So, it was about showing Japan’s strengths, and it was also about showing the world that Japan had achieved political stability.
When Prime Minister Abe came to strongly support the Olympics, he also saw the Games as his legacy. As time passed and those Olympic preparations were moving forward, were also the years in which the Prime Minister remained in power, to the point that, in fact, in his second term in office, he became the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japan’s history. The Olympics will be a culmination of some sort for this achievement.