© Reuters. The Beijing 2022 emblem appears on the countdown clock for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on December 7, 2021 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
By Renju Jose and Gabriel Crossley
Sydney/Beijing (Reuters)-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that Australia will join the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and other allies are weighing similar measures to protest China’s Human rights record.
Just a few weeks after talks aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies, US government officials stated that due to China’s human rights “atrocities”, their government officials will boycott the February Beijing Olympics.
China stated that the United States would “pay the price” for its decision and warned of countermeasures in response, but did not provide details.
Morrison said that Wednesday’s decision was due to Australia’s efforts to reopen diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights violations in the western region of Xinjiang and Beijing’s imports from Australia.
In announcing the plans, Morrison said that Beijing had not responded to several questions raised by Canberra, including allegations of human rights violations.
“Therefore, it is no surprise that Australian government officials will not go to China to participate in those Olympics,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, the Australian capital, said that some Australian politicians are engaged in political gestures.
The spokesperson added in an online statement: “The current China-Australia relationship is in trouble, and the responsibility rests solely with Australia.”
The Australian Olympic Committee stated that the boycott will not affect athletes’ preparations for the Olympics, adding that the “diplomatic choice” is a matter for the government.
Other US allies have not promised to join the boycott.
According to a report from the British Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, the UK is considering approving the limited attendance of the government’s event in the Chinese capital between February 4 and 20, which will not lead to a full-scale diplomatic boycott.
It added that it is still possible to completely ban ministers and diplomatic representatives at the Winter Olympics.
Sankei Shimbun quoted an unnamed government source as saying on Wednesday that after the United States announced a diplomatic boycott, Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to the event.
The administration of President Joe Biden cited the so-called genocide of the Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region by the United States. China denies all violations of human rights.
A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that China opposes a diplomatic boycott by the United States.
“The United States will pay for its wrongdoing,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing. “Let us all wait and see.”
When asked whether China would consider a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics in the United States, Zhao said that the U.S. boycott “undermined the foundation and atmosphere of Olympic sports exchanges and cooperation.”
The Winter Olympics will begin approximately six months after the end of the Japanese capital Tokyo after the Summer Olympics were postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic for one year.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the Beijing Games Coordination Team of the International Olympic Committee, said: “We always ask the political community to give as much respect as possible and minimize interference.”
“We must be mutually beneficial. We respect political decisions made by political institutions.”
The United States will host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing to bid for the 2030 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Although the United States has made efforts to stabilize relations between the two countries, the United States’ diplomatic boycott continued for several months with the encouragement of some members of the US Congress and human rights organizations. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a video conference last month.
“The only choice”
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Foundation in the United States, said that unless other countries join the boycott, it will weaken the unacceptable message that China has violated human rights.
Glaser said at a US Congressional hearing on Tuesday: “The only option we really have is to try to get as many countries as possible to stand with us in this alliance.”
After Canberra banned Huawei technology from entering its 5G broadband network in 2018 and sought an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19, the relationship between Australia and its largest trading partner, China, was at a low ebb.
In response, Beijing imposed tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal and wine.