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Tokyo opening ceremony reflects the true purpose of the Olympics




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While the last-minute sacking of show director Kentaro Kobayashi represented one final, unanticipated distraction in the lead-up to the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics, Friday’s (23 July) opening ceremony made it very clear that the long awaited Games are going full speed ahead, carried by the hopes of thousands of athletes and billions of fans watching from Europe and around the world.

Organized amidst unprecedented restrictions as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt major events and international travel, the Tokyo Games are nonetheless set to offer a brief, cherished respite from the suffering caused by the pandemic, all while serving as a model for global cooperation as the planet struggles to coordinate an unprecedented vaccination drive.

Despite some voices calling for the event to be cancelled, the opening ceremony at Tokyo’s National Stadium reminded the small audience allowed into the stadium, and the much larger one watching on television, of the majesty and magic of the Olympic Games.


The Olympic Spirit

Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Olympic Spirit as bringing out “humanity’s best” in a message of congratulations to the qualified athletes, as well as to the host country of Japan. He continued by saying that the global community can achieve anything if it applies the same principles to global challenges.

While some media outlets began referring to the 2020 Tokyo Games as the “COVID Olympics” the chagrin of the host country, many thousands of people in Japan and around the world worked tirelessly to make the games happen under unprecedented conditions, while thousands of athletes who have now arrived in Japan trained through the uncertainty of the pandemic for the chance to compete.


But while the association with the global health crisis is inescapable, the next several weeks will ultimately decide how that association will be remembered in the years and decades to come. As its organizers have made clear, the Tokyo Games are the perfect opportunity for the entire world to come together and celebrate human achievement in face of adversity.

'Outrageous and unacceptable'

Those organizers have overcome no small amount of adversity themselves in getting these Olympics across the finish line. Just one day before the ceremony, show director Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed following the emergence of a comedy sketch from the 1990s in which he made a reference to the Holocaust as part of a joke. The Japanese Olympic Committee reacted quickly, sacking Kobayashi mere hours after the video began circulating on social media.

Kobayashi issued a statement of apology in which he said that “it should never be the job of an entertainer to make people feel uncomfortable”. His sacking was accompanied by condemnations from senior political figures in the country, including prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who described the joke as "outrageous and unacceptable".

While Kobayashi’s poor judgement represented the latest headache for an Olympic organizing committee tasked with making sure the Games would go on in the face of unprecedented adversity, Friday’s ceremony demonstrated how the Olympics could still bring people together, even in the middle of the most severe health crisis in living memory.

Adding to a tradition of resilience

Indeed, for over a century, the Olympic Games have served as a stage for celebrating achievements of athletes from wildly different social, ethnic or religious backgrounds. The Tokyo Games, by offering much-needed distraction and wonder for billions of people across the globe, promise to be no different.

Far from ignoring the lessons of the pandemic, the Games have leveraged the historic breakthroughs made in developing COVID-19 vaccines. With a vaccination rate buoyed to above 80% thanks to months of collaboration between Pfizer and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Olympic Village managed to achieve herd immunity by the time the first events of these Olympics took place.

With the International Olympic Committee having more members than even the United Nations, the Games are one of the few truly global events on our planet. At a time of growing international tension, the Olympics can serve as a reconciliatory factor, reminding the world that friendly rivalry and competing excellence is preferable to conflict and resentment.

While this edition of the Games might take place with almost no spectators in the stands, the next few weeks should still help bring people and nations together at a time when global co-operation on issues of public health and climate change have never been so important.


The Kuril Islands problem as a stumbling point between Russia and Japan



The problem of the territorial sovereignty over the Southern Kuril Islands or the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan has been unresolved since the end of the World War II and remains as it is up to nowadays, writes Alex Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

The issue of ownership of the islands remains in the focus of bilateral relations between Moscow and Tokyo, although the Russian side is making active efforts to "dissolve" this issue and find a replacement for it mainly through economic projects. Nevertheless, Tokyo does not give up trying to present the problem of the Kuril Islands as the main one on the bilateral agenda.

After the war, all the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the USSR, but the ownership of the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islands is disputed by Japan, which considers them an occupied part of the country. Though the 4 islands themselves represent a rather small area, total area of the disputed territory, including the 200-mile economic zone, is approximately 200.000 square kilometres.


Russia claims that its sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands is absolutely legal and is not subject to doubt and discussion, and declares that it does not recognize the very fact of the existence of a territorial dispute with Japan. The problem of ownership of the southern Kuril Islands is the main obstacle to the full settlement of Russian-Japanese relations and the signing of a peace treaty after the WWII. Moreover, the amendments to the Russian Constitution approved last year put an end to the Kuril issue, since the Basic Law prohibits the transfer of Russian territories.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently once again has draw the line under the dispute with Japan over the status of the Southern Kurils, which lasted 65 years. At the main event of the Eastern Economic Forum in early September 2021 he indicated that Moscow would no longer decide the fate of the islands bilaterally and questioned the strength of the 1956 Declaration that defines the relations between the Soviet Union and Japan. Thus, Putin removed the threats that would have arisen in the event of the transfer of the islands, experts say, but this could deprive the Far East of Japanese investments.

In the 1956 Declaration the Soviet Union agreed to the transfer of the Habomai Islands and the Shikotan Islands to Japan on the condition that the actual transfer of these islands to Japan would be made after the conclusion of a Peace Treaty between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan.


In the conditions of the Cold War the unpredictable and obviously weak Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanted to encourage Japan to adopt the status of a neutral state by transferring the two islands and concluding the peace treaty. However, later the Japanese side refused to sign a peace treaty under pressure from the United States, which threatened that if Japan withdrew its claims to the islands of Kunashir and Iturup, the Ryukyu archipelago with the island of Okinawa, which was then under the US administration on the basis of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, would not be returned to Japan.

President Putin, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, announced that entrepreneurs on the Kuril Islands will be exempt from taxes on profit, property, land for ten years, as well as reduce insurance premiums; customs privileges are also provided.  

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that the special tax regime proposed by Vladimir Putin in the Kuril Islands should not violate the laws of the two countries. 

"Based on the indicated position, we would like to continue to conduct a constructive dialogue with Russia in order to create suitable conditions for signing a peace treaty," Motegi added.

Japan said that Moscow's plans to create a special economic zone in the Kuril Islands, which were announced at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok by Russian President Vladimir Putin, contradict Tokyo's position. According to Japanese Government Secretary General Katsunobu Kato, calls to Japanese and foreign companies to participate in the economic development of the territory do not meet the "spirit of the agreement" reached by the leaders of the two states on joint economic activities on the islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai. Based on this position, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga completely ignored the EEF this year, although his predecessor Shinzo Abe attended the forum four times. It is difficult not to mention that Suga’s statement is merely a populist gesture – the current prime minister is very unpopular, the rating of his government has fallen below 30%, while Japanese hardliners love politicians who promise to "return the islands".

Russia's plans to intensively and rapidly develop the Kuriles, which were announced in July 2021 during a trip to the region by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, were immediately met with hostility in Tokyo. Katsunobu Kato called that visit "contrary to Japan's consistent position regarding the northern territories and causing great regret," and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi called it "hurting the feelings of the people of Japan." A protest was also expressed to the Russian ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin, who considered it "unacceptable", since the Kuril Islands were transferred to Russia "legally after the Second World War".

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov also voiced his dissatisfaction in connection with "unfriendly steps in the context of Tokyo's territorial claims" to Russia. And the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the head of government "visits those Russian regions that he considers necessary and on the development of which, including in cooperation with our partners, there is a lot of work to be done."

It is obvious that the problem of the Kuril Islands, as it is viewed by the Japanese side, is unlikely to find its solution on the terms of Tokyo.

Many analysts, and not only in Russia, are convinced that Japan's insistence on the so-called "northern territories" is based on purely selfish and practical interests. The islands themselves hardly represent any tangible benefit, given their modest size and harsh nature. For Tokyo, the sea wealth in the economic zone adjacent to the islands and, in part, the opportunities for tourism development are most important.

However, Moscow does not leave Tokyo with any hopes in terms of territories, offering instead to focus on economic cooperation, which would give both countries much more tangible results than fruitless attempts to antagonize each other.

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Kazakhstan collects 5 medals at 2020 Tokyo Paralympics



Kazakhstan collected five medals - one gold, three silver and one bronze - at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Japan, Kazinform has learnt from the official website of the event. Kazakhstan para-powerlifter David Degtyarev lifted Kazakhstan to its only gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Kazakhstan hauled all three silver medals in judo as Anuar Sariyev, Temirzhan Daulet and Zarina Baibatina all clinched silver in Men’s -60kg, Men’s -73kg and Women’s +70kg weight categories, respectively. Kazakhstani para-swimmer Nurdaulet Zhumagali settled for bronze in Men’s 100m Breaststroke event. Team Kazakhstan is ranked 52nd in the overall medal tally of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics together with Finland. China tops the medal standing with 207 medals, including 96 gold, 60 silver and 51 bronze. Ranked second is Great Britain with 124 medals. The US is third with 104 medals.


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US scraps plan to use South Korea and Japan military bases for Afghan refugees -sources




US service members provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021. Picture taken 22 August. US Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Handout via REUTERS

The United States has decided against the idea of using its largest overseas military bases in South Korea and Japan to house Afghan refugees temporarily, two sources with close knowledge of the matter told Reuters, writes Hyonhee Shin.

U.S. officials "appeared to have figured out better sites and decided to remove both countries from the list because of logistics and geography among other reasons," said one of the sources said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.


The South Korean government had responded positively when the United States first floated the idea, the source added. read more

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

South Korea is also working with the United States to evacuate some 400 Afghans who had worked with South Korean troops and relief workers, and bring them to Seoul, the sources said.


Most of the Afghans are medical personnel, engineers, translators and others who had aided South Korean troops stationed there between 2001 and 2014, or took part in a reconstruction mission from 2010-14 involving medical and vocational training.

"Despite some domestic resistance toward accepting refugees, these people helped us and it has to be done given the humanitarian concerns and the trust of the international community," said one of the sources.

Plans to bring them to Seoul were fraught with uncertainty due to the volatile situation in Kabul, where thousands of people are scrambling to the airport, desperate to flee following the Taliban's take over of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

The United States and its allies are racing to complete the evacuation of all foreigners and vulnerable Afghans before the expiry of an Aug.31 deadline agreed with Taliban. read more

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