China summons Japan ambassador over plans to release contaminated Fukushima water into sea

BEIJING (Reuters) -China on Thursday summoned Japan’s ambassador in protest over Japan’s planned release of contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant and said it would assess possible safety threats to food and agricultural products.

According to plans unveiled by Japan on Tuesday, the release of more than a million tonnes of contaminated water into the sea from the plant crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 will start in about two years after filtering it to remove harmful isotopes.

The plan drew immediate opposition from neighbors South Korea, China and Taiwan.

China is seriously concerned about the unilateral decision to discharge wastewater from Fukushima into the sea, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said at a regular press conference.

“We will closely follow the development of the situation and assess possible threats posed to the safety of related food and agricultural products and their trade, to ensure the safety of Chinese consumers,” said Gao.

China’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Japan’s ambassador to Beijing, Hideo Tarumi, and lodged “solemn representations” over Tokyo’s move.

“China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, citing Assistant Minister Wu Jianghao as telling Tarumi the decision disregarded the marine environment and the safety of people in neighbouring countries.

The foreign ministry had earlier said China shared a common stance with South Korea opposing Japan’s action.

(Reporting by Xu Jing, Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Toby Chopra, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

U.S. Senate moves ahead with sweeping effort to counter China

By Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a meeting on April 14 to consider major bipartisan legislation to boost the country’s ability to push back against China’s expanding global influence, Senate sources said on Thursday.

The draft measure, seen by Reuters and titled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, mandates a range of diplomatic and strategic initiatives to counteract Beijing, reflecting hardline sentiment on dealings with China from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

The bill is intended to address economic competition with China, but also humanitarian and democratic values, such as the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs, suppression of dissent in Hong Kong and aggression in the South China Sea.

It stressed the need to “prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.” It called for spending to do so, saying Congress must ensure the federal budget is “properly aligned” with the strategic imperative to compete with China.

It calls for an enhanced partnership with Taiwan, calling the democratic self-governed island “a vital part of the United States Indo-Pacific strategy” and saying there should be no restrictions on the ability of U.S. officials to interact with Taiwanese counterparts. China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province.

The bill also says Washington must encourage allies to do more to check Beijing’s “aggressive and assertive behavior.” And it calls on every federal department and agency to designate a senior official to coordinate policies with respect to strategic competition with China.

“The United States must ensure that all Federal departments and agencies are organized to reflect the fact that strategic competition with the PRC is the United States top foreign policy priority,” the draft said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

Another clause would limit assistance to countries hosting Chinese military installations, saying Beijing uses its so-called Belt and Road Initiative to advance its security interests and facilitate greater military access.

Introduced by Senators Bob Menendez, the committee’s Democratic chairman, and Jim Risch, its ranking Republican, the draft bill is 283 pages long. It was released to committee members overnight to allow a markup, a meeting during which the panel will discuss amendments and vote, in a week.

The measure is the Foreign Relations panel’s contribution to a fast-track effort in the Senate announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to write legislation to counter China.

The effort is supported by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Senate Commerce Committee announced on Wednesday that it would hold a hearing on April 14 on its bipartisan measure to bolster U.S. technology. That bill, titled the Endless Frontier Act, was first proposed in 2020 and calls for $110 billion over five years to advance U.S. technology efforts.

Separately on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department said it was adding seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist for assisting China’s military.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Toby Chopra and Jonathan Oatis)

Scientists call for new probe into COVID-19 origins: with or without China

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A joint China-World Health Organization (WHO) study into COVID-19 has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began, and more rigorous investigations are required – with or without Beijing’s involvement, a group of international scientists and researchers said on Wednesday.

The joint study, released last week, said the likeliest transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, involved bats and other wildlife in China and southeast Asia. It all but ruled out the possibility it had leaked from a laboratory.

In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the study was tainted by politics.

“Their starting point was, let’s have as much compromise as is required to get some minimal cooperation from China,” said Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who drafted the letter.

The letter said the study’s conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples “remain inaccessible”.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus said last week China had withheld data.

Liang Wannian, China’s senior COVID-19 expert, denied this and appeared to rule out any further joint investigations in China, saying the focus should shift to other countries.

Metzl said the world might have to “revert to Plan B” and conduct an investigation “in the most systematic way possible” without China’s involvement.

China has rejected allegations that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a research laboratory in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first identified.

The joint China-WHO study said the lab leak was “extremely unlikely”, saying there was “no record” that any laboratory had kept SARS-CoV-2-related viruses. Tedros said more research was required to “reach more robust conclusions”.

Metzl said China should disclose information that would allow the lab hypothesis to be disproved.

“China has databases of what viruses were being held… there are lab notes of the work that was being done,” he said, “There are all kinds of scientists who are actually doing the work and we don’t have access to any of those resources, or any of those people.”

(Reporting by David Stanway, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

China sends more jets; Taiwan says it will fight to the end if there’s war

By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – China sent more fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone on Wednesday in a stepped up show of force around the island Beijing claims as its own, and Taiwan’s foreign minister said it would fight to the end if China attacks.

The democratic self-governed island has complained of repeated military activities by Beijing in recent months, with China’s air force making almost daily forays in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. On Monday, China said an aircraft carrier group was exercising close to the island.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 15 Chinese aircraft including 12 fighters entered its air defense identification zone, with an anti-submarine aircraft flying to the south through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

Taiwan’s air force sent up aircraft to intercept and warn the Chinese away, the ministry added.

Speaking earlier in the day, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said the United States was concerned about the risk of conflict.

“From my limited understanding of American decision makers watching developments in this region, they clearly see the danger of the possibility of China launching an attack against Taiwan,” he told reporters at his ministry.

“We are willing to defend ourselves without any questions and we will fight the war if we need to fight the war. And if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day we will defend ourselves to the very last day.”

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the U.S. State Department did not respond to requests for comment on Wu’s remarks. China has said its activities around Taiwan are aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty. The United States has expressed concern about China’s movements, and said its commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid”.

Adding to the stepped up military action near Taiwan, the U.S. Navy said the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain conducted a “routine” transit of the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday.

‘PORCUPINE’ TAIWAN

Neither Taiwan nor China has said precisely where the Chinese carrier group is, or whether it is heading towards the disputed South China Sea, where a U.S. carrier group is currently operating.

Speaking in parliament, Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said the Chinese carrier’s movements were being closely followed, and described its drills as routine.

A person familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters the carrier group is still “near the Japanese islands,” though declined to disclose the exact location.

Japan had said on Sunday that the Chinese carrier group had entered the Pacific after sailing through the Miyako Strait, through Japan’s southern Ryukyu island chain northeast of Taiwan.

Washington, Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier, has been pushing Taipei to modernize its military so it can become a “porcupine,” hard for China to attack.

Wu said Taiwan was determined to improve its military capabilities and spend more on defense.

“The defense of Taiwan is our responsibility. We will try every way we can to improve our defense capability.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it will run eight days of computer-aided war games this month, simulating a Chinese attack. A second phase of exercises, including live-fire drills and anti-landing drills, will take place in July, when hospitals would also practice handling mass casualties.

“The drills are designed based on the toughest enemy threats, simulating all possible scenarios on an enemy invasion on Taiwan,” Major General Liu Yu-Ping told reporters.

Asked if Washington’s de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan, would send representatives to the drills, Liu said such a plan was “discussed” but “will not be implemented,” citing military sensitivity.

(Reporting By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Roger Tung; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)

Chinese scientist says Beijing did share COVID-19 data with investigators

By Gabriel Crossley

BEIJING (Reuters) -A top Chinese medical expert said on Wednesday there was no factual basis to accusations that China did not share data with international researchers appointed by the World Health Organization to look into the origins of COVID-19.

Following the publication of the joint study into the origins of COVID-19 by China and the WHO on Tuesday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China had withheld data from the international investigators.

But Liang Wannian, who was co-leader of the joint study, told reporters that researchers from both sides had access to the same data throughout the investigation and that the assertions about lack of access were not accurate.

“Of course, according to Chinese law, some data cannot be taken away or photographed, but when we were analyzing it together in Wuhan, everyone could see the database, the materials – it was all done together,” he said.

Responding to allegations that the expert panel did not have access to complete datasets and samples, Liang said no scientist ever had perfect information.

He also rejected complaints that the publication of the report had been repeatedly delayed, noting that “every sentence, every conclusion, every piece of data” needed to be verified by both sides before it could be released.

“Throughout we always upheld the principle of ‘quality comes first,'” said Liang, who is the head of a committee of experts on COVID-19 set up by China’s National Health Commission.

The joint study concluded that the most likely origin of COVID-19 was in animals, and probably passed through an intermediary species before it entered humans.

It also said more efforts were needed to see if COVID-19 could be traced back to wildlife farms in both China and southeast Asia.

Liang said China would continue to try to trace the origins of COVID-19, but the Chinese part of the joint research had been completed, and attention should now turn to other countries.

Tracing the origins of COVID-19 couldn’t be achieved overnight, he said.

“There are lots of diseases that have circulated for a long time and we still haven’t found their origins,” he said. “It still needs a lot of time.”

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)

Data withheld from WHO team probing COVID-19 origins in China: Tedros

By Stephanie Nebehay and John Miller

GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) – Data was withheld from World Health Organization investigators who travelled to China to research the origins of the coronavirus epidemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.

The United States, the European Union and other Western countries immediately called for China to give “full access” to independent experts to all data about the original outbreak in late 2019.

In its final report, written jointly with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” as a cause.

One of the team’s investigators has already said China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO-led team, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the global pandemic began.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data,” Tedros said. “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

The inability of the WHO mission to conclude yet where or how the virus began spreading in people means that tensions will continue over how the pandemic started – and whether China has helped efforts to find out or, as the United States has alleged, hindered them.

“The international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Korea, Slovenia, Britain, the United States and the European Union said in a joint statement.

“NOT EXTENSIVE ENOUGH”

Although the team concluded that a leak from a Wuhan laboratory was the least likely hypothesis for the virus that causes COVID-19, Tedros said the issue required further investigation, potentially with more missions to China.

“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he told member states in remarks released by the WHO. “Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”

The WHO team’s leader, Peter Ben Embarek, told a press briefing it was “perfectly possible” the virus had been circulating in November or October 2019 around Wuhan, and so potentially spreading abroad earlier than documented so far.

“We got access to quite a lot of data in many different areas, but of course there were areas where we had difficulties getting down to the raw data and there are many good reasons for that,” he said, citing privacy laws and other restrictions.

Second phase studies were required, Ben Embarek added.

He said the team had felt political pressure, including from outside China, but that he had never been pressed to remove anything from its final report.

Dominic Dwyer, an Australian expert on the mission, said he was satisfied there was “no obvious evidence” of a problem at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The European Union called the study “an important first step” but renewed criticisms that the origin study had begun too late, that experts had been kept out of China for too long, and that access to data and early samples had fallen short.

In a statement, Walter Stevens, EU ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called for further study with “timely access to relevant locations and to all relevant human, animal and environmental data available”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, John Miller and Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey)

China formalizes sweeping electoral shake-up for Hong Kong, demands loyalty

By Yew Lun Tian and Clare Jim

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China finalized a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system on Tuesday, drastically curbing democratic representation in the city as authorities seek to ensure “patriots” rule the global financial hub.

The measures are part of Beijing’s efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip over its freest city following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a tool to crush dissent.

The changes would see the number of directly elected representatives fall and the number of Beijing-approved officials rise in an expanded legislature, Xinhua news agency reported.

As part of the shake-up, a powerful new vetting committee will monitor candidates for public office and work with national security authorities to ensure they are loyal to Beijing.

Maria Tam, a senior Hong Kong politician who works with China’s parliament on matters relating to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution told Reuters the Committee for Safeguarding National Security would help the new vetting committee to “understand the background of all of the candidates, specifically whether they had complied with the national security law.”

Beijing imposed the contentious security legislation on Hong Kong in June, punishing what it broadly defines as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in jail.

Chinese authorities have said the electoral shake-up is aimed at getting rid of “loopholes and deficiencies” that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and to ensure only “patriots” run the city.

The measures are the most significant overhaul of Hong Kong’s political structure since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and alter the size and composition of the legislature and electoral committee in favor of pro-Beijing figures.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and several city officials, including the Secretary for Justice, all issued separate statements praising China’s move.

“I firmly believe that by improving the electoral system and implementing ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’, the excessive politicization in society and the internal rift that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively mitigated,” Lam said.

Speaking at a press conference later, Lam said the changes would be submitted to the Legislative Council by mid-April and expected to see them passed by the end of May.

Legislative Council elections, which were postponed in September with the government citing coronavirus, would be held in December, she added, while the city’s leadership election would be held in March, as planned.

UNOPPOSED

The number of directly elected representatives will drop to 20 from 35 and the size of the legislature increase to 90 seats from 70 currently, Xinhua said, while an election committee responsible for selecting the chief executive will increase from 1,200 members to 1,500.

The representation of 117 community-level district councilors in the election committee would be scrapped and the six district council seats in the Legislative Council will also go, according to Xinhua.

District councils are the city’s only fully democratic institution, and almost 90% of the 452 district seats are controlled by the democratic camp after a 2019 vote. They mostly deal with grassroots issues such as public transport links and garbage collection.

The electoral restructuring was endorsed unopposed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, at the apex of China’s legislature, Xinhua reported.

Beijing had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also guarantees the city wide-ranging autonomy not seen in mainland China, including freedom of speech.

Critics say the changes move Hong Kong in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has ever had since the handover, if any at all.

Since the security law was imposed, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it, or arrested for other reasons.

Some elected legislators have been disqualified, with authorities calling their oaths insincere, while scores of democracy activists have been driven into exile.

All legislature candidates, including direct elected seats, will also need nominations from each of the five subsectors in the election committee, according to Xinhua, making it more difficult for pro-democracy candidates to take part in the election.

“They want to increase the safety factor so that in the future, the democrats will not only get very limited seats, if they are not liked by Beijing, they won’t even be able to run in the election,” said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of government and public administration.

He expects the democratic candidates to get at most one-sixth, or around 16 seats, in LegCo after the reforms.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; Writing by Se Young Lee, Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Shri Navaratnam)

Former CDC chief Redfield says he thinks COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab

(Reuters) – The former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said he believes the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, embracing a theory rejected by many global epidemiologists that has contributed to tensions between China and the West.

“I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped,” Robert Redfield, who headed the CDC in the Trump administration, said in a televised interview with CNN.

“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker,” he said.

Redfield said that he thought it unlikely a disease that originated in bats – as many experts believe – so swiftly “became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission,” but added that he was not saying release of the virus was intentional.

Redfield’s opinion was in line with other Trump administration officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said recently that there was a “significant amount of evidence” that the virus came from a lab, without providing any evidence.

U.S. infectious disease chief Anthony Fauci, who served in the Trump administration and now serves under President Joe Biden, said most public health officials disagree with the Chinese lab theory, when asked about Redfield’s comments during a White House COVID-19 briefing.

Most believe that the virus was circulating for a month or more before it was clinically recognized in China, and that in that time it could have adapted itself to more efficient transmission between humans, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

A World Health Organization report on its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is expected soon. The head of the WHO-led team in February said bats remain a likely source and effectively ruled out a lab leak.

(Reporting By Peter Henderson; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. says hopes WHO report on virus origins is ‘based on science’

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States expects the World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic to require further study, perhaps including a return visit to China, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Marc Cassayre, charge d’affaires at the U.S. mission to the U.N. in Geneva, also voiced hope that the WHO-led mission to the central city of Wuhan in Jan.-Feb. had access to the raw data and to the people required to make an independent assessment.

The lengthy report by the team – composed of international experts and their Chinese counterparts – is expected to be issued this week, the WHO says.

“We are hopeful that it will be based on science and be a real step forward for the world understanding the origins of the virus so we can better prepare for future pandemics,” Cassayre told a news briefing.

U.S. officials expected further work would be needed to identify the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he said. “That would probably require, as we would presume, further studies of the team, maybe travel to China or further discussions.”

The probe was plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington, which under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak.

Some team members have said China was reluctant to share vital data that could show the virus was circulating months earlier than first recognized in late 2019.

Ben Embarek, a WHO official leading the mission, said at a press briefing marking the end of the visit that the virus probably originated in bats, although it was not certain how it reached humans. He also effectively ruled out a lab leak.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later said that “all hypotheses remain open” and pledged full transparency.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Blinken warns China against ‘coercion and aggression’ on first Asia trip

By Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China on Tuesday against using “coercion and aggression” as he sought to use his first trip abroad to shore up Asian alliances in the face of growing assertiveness by Beijing.

China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S. relationship and are an important security concern for Japan.

“We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way,” Blinken said.

His visit to Tokyo with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet. It follows last week’s summit of the leaders of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

Blinken’s comments come ahead of meetings in Alaska on Thursday that will bring together for the first time senior Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss frayed ties between the world’s top two economies.

Washington has criticized what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has denounced what it called U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it calls its internal affairs.

In the statement issued with their Japanese counterparts, Blinken and Austin said, “China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges to the alliance and to the international community.”

The two countries committed themselves to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region that undermines the rules-based international system, they added.

The meeting was held in the “2+2” format with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as hosts.

North Korea was in sharp focus after the White House said Pyongyang had rebuffed efforts at dialogue.

The isolated nation, which has pursued nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, warned the Biden administration against “causing a stink” if it wanted peace, state media said on Tuesday.

Blinken underscored the importance of working closely with Japan and South Korea on the denuclearization of North Korea.

“We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to North Korea than this alliance,” he said. “We approach that challenge as an alliance and we’ve got to do that if we are going to be effective.”

‘UNWAVERING COMMITMENT’

The ministers also discussed Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to defend Japan in its dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea and repeated their opposition to China’s “unlawful” maritime claims in the South China Sea.

They also shared concerns over developments such as the law China passed in January allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

China has sent coast guard vessels to chase away fishing vessels from countries with which it has disputes in regional waters, sometimes resulting in their sinking.

Motegi said China-related issues took up the majority of his two-way talks with Blinken, and expressed strong opposition to the neighbor’s “unilateral attempt” to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing that U.S.-Japan ties “shouldn’t target or undermine the interests of any third party,” and should boost “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific”.

Blinken expressed concern over the Myanmar military’s attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election, and its crackdown on peaceful protesters.

He also reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to human rights, adding, “China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abusing human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.”

Motegi said Blinken expressed support during the meeting for the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, set to run from July 23 to Aug. 8 after being postponed from last year because of the coronavirus crisis.

But Blinken sounded non-committal in his remarks to Tokyo-based U.S. diplomats, saying the summer Games involved planning for several different scenarios. But he added, “Whenever and however Team USA ends up competing, it will be because of you.”

The U.S. officials ended the visit with a courtesy call on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White House in April as the first foreign leader to meet Biden.

Both will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday for talks in the South Korean capital until Thursday.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park, Antoni Slodkowski, Elaine Lies, Chang-Ran Kim, Ritsuko Ando and David Dolan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)