Australia joins diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Games

Sydney, Australia | Wed, December 8, 2021

Australia will join the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday, as other allies considered similar actions to protest China’s human rights record. The United States has announced that its government officials will boycott the February Olympics in Beijing due to China’s human rights “atrocities,” just weeks after talks aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies. China said the US would “pay the price” for its decision and warned of retaliatory measures, but provided no further details.

Morrison stated that the decision was made because Australia has been unable to re-open diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights violations in the far western region of Xinjiang, as well as Beijing’s moves against Australian imports. Morrison announced the plans after Beijing failed to respond to several issues raised by Canberra, including allegations of human rights violations. “As a result, it is not surprising that Australian government officials will not be traveling to China for those Games,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney. Athletes from Australia will compete. China has denied any wrongdoing in Xinjiang and claims that the allegations are false.

At a daily briefing in Beijing, its foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Australian politicians were engaging in “political posturing.” “It doesn’t matter if they come or not,” he added. The Australian Olympic Committee said the boycott would have no effect on athletes’ preparations for the Games, which will take place from February 4 to 20, adding that “diplomatic options” were up to governments. Other US allies have been hesitant to join the boycott.

The Telegraph newspaper reported on Wednesday that Britain is considering approving limited government attendance at the event in China’s capital, which would fall short of a full diplomatic boycott. It added that an outright ban on ministerial and diplomatic representation at the Winter Games is still a possibility Following the announcement of the US diplomatic boycott, Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to the Games, according to the Sankei Shimbun daily, citing unidentified government sources. According to a South Korean presidential official, the country is not considering a diplomatic boycott at this time.

The administration of President Joe Biden cited what the US calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. China denies all human rights violations. The Winter Games will begin about six months after the Summer Games conclude in Tokyo, Japan, after a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We always ask for as much respect and as little interference from the political world as possible,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination panel for the Beijing event. “We must be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”

The United States is set to host the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028 and is planning to bid for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2030. The American diplomatic boycott, which has been encouraged for months by some members of the US Congress and rights groups, comes despite efforts to normalize relations between the two countries, including a video meeting last month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.

‘The Only Option’

Unless other countries join the boycott, the message that China’s human rights violations are unacceptable will be undermined, according to Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “The only option really that we have is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser said at a congressional hearing in the United States on Tuesday.

Ties between Australia and its largest trading partner, China, are at an all-time low after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and requested an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. China retaliated by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal, and wine.

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