How many countries will follow the official US snub at the Beijing Olympics?
SEOUL – Neither President Biden nor any other American officials leave, but the Russian leader could. New Zealand says it decided months ago that its diplomats would not attend. On Wednesday, Australia said its officials would also stay at home. Political leaders of other nations are expected to withdraw whether or not they give an explicit reason.
In less than two months, in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, China is opening the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing and now also a diplomatic boycott to protest against the host country’s repressive policies.
The White House’s announcement on Monday that it would not send an official delegation sparked anger in Beijing, where Chinese officials again promised retaliation on Tuesday.
“This will only make people see the sinister intentions of the American side and the American side will only lose morality and credibility,” said a Chinese State Department spokesman Zhao Lijian.
A prominent state media columnist, Chen Weihua of China Daily, biting expressed hope that Mr Biden would live long enough to see China boycott the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 2028.
While the impact of Mr. Biden’s decision on other countries remains to be seen, several have already signaled that they too will seek ways to express their displeasure with China’s policies while banning athletes from participating.
The decision will be particularly complicated for European nations that have sharply criticized China’s human rights and democracy violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The European Union has just extended for another year the business and travel restrictions it imposed a year ago on officials involved in cracking down on Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.
And in July the European Parliament, which often holds strong moral positions, overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the Winter Olympics “unless the Chinese government shows a demonstrable improvement in human rights Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China. “
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At the same time, many European nations have extensive trade ties with Beijing that they do not want to endanger, especially for a measure that is likely only to offend China, not change.
An official response from the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, on Tuesday to a question about the boycott did not offer any support for the American position.
Major sporting events like the Olympic Games, with their universal audience, “can help spread positive values and promote freedom and human rights on a global scale,” the Commission said in a statement. “We are ready to contribute. However, such platforms should not be used for political propaganda. “
Participation in the Olympic Games, in whatever form, is a decision of the individual Member States, which are certainly divided on this issue, as in many others.
Italy will not join the American boycott, an Italian government official said on Tuesday, while France, Germany and the UK were non-committal.
However, if the Italian position changes, it will be a direct blow to Beijing. Italy will host the Winter Games in 2026 and is expected by the Olympic tradition that it sends official envoys to these games, who, so to speak, take over the baton from one host to another.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday local time, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, citing concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and China’s criticism of Australia’s plans for new nuclear submarines – along with Beijing’s reluctance to discuss the issues – the country’s government officials would “I’m not going to China for these games. Australian athletes will, however. “
Only a handful of world leaders took part in the summer games in Tokyo, which were held a year late due to the coronavirus pandemic. They included President Emmanuel Macron of France, whose country will host the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, and according to protocol, he can be expected to attend those games.
His office announced on Tuesday that Macron had taken note of the US diplomatic boycott and that France would “coordinate at European level” on this issue, reported Agence France-Presse.
“If we have human rights concerns, we let the Chinese know,” said Macron’s office. “We imposed sanctions related to Xinjiang in March last year.”
Germany has not yet sworn in its new government, and while the coalition expects a somewhat tougher stance on China, Chancellor Olaf Scholz refused to respond on Tuesday. At a press conference, after a third question on the subject, he simply said: “We think it is important to do everything we can to ensure that the world works together internationally.”
Great Britain has also not yet made a decision on a diplomatic boycott, but there are demands from the ruling Conservative Party.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader and vocal critic of Beijing politics, welcomed the US announcement and urged the UK to follow suit.
The British government must “do the same and announce a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics”. Mr Duncan Smith wrote on Twitter, and added in another post that many in Parliament are in favor of such a move.
The British government’s stance on China has hardened in the face of mounting tensions over Chinese politics in its former colony, Hong Kong, which is an outright embarrassment for London. Prior to the US announcement, UK Deputy Prime Minister and Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told LBC News, “I can categorically tell you that I will not be attending the Winter Olympics.”
China’s critics praised the White House for drawing international attention to China’s long history of human rights abuses. These include raids in Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as in Xinjiang, where more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims cycled through mass detention and re-education camps.
The International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that a boycott was “both morally and strategically the right choice”.
Canada and Australia, diplomatically entangled with China this year, are also considering joining the boycott.
“Australia must not be complacent, but move swiftly to demonstrate our longstanding commitment to upholding human rights and where they are being violated,” said Eric Abetz, a senator from the country’s ruling Liberal Party, in a statement. Since last year he has been calling for a diplomatic boycott.
Although the American decision was awaited and, as government officials said, sent to Beijing in advance of the announcement on Monday, the Communist Party government appeared both nervous and angry.
The censors appeared to be blocking online searches for the word “boycott,” while initial reports in state media focused on statements by Chinese officials who described the effort as politicizing a sporting event in violation of the Olympic spirit.
Beijing officials tried last week to forestall any prospect of a diplomatic boycott by stating that they would not invite foreign politicians to the Winter Games and instead leave that task to national Olympic committees around the world.
However, this contradicted a statement by the Foreign Ministry last month that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would attend at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi attended the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi when Russia was also facing diplomatic boycotts.
For many countries, especially China’s Asian neighbors, the question of how to deal with Beijing in the context of the Olympics is an exciting one. Given its diplomatic sensitivity, some nations have avoided any explicit rebuke from Beijing.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday that his country has not yet decided who will represent the country in Beijing, despite lawmakers calling for a boycott over human rights violations, territorial disputes and Chinese aggression in regional seas.
New Zealand said it has also raised human rights concerns in China but will not be sending top officials mainly because of the pandemic.
The obstacles to participation in the Beijing Olympics are not just diplomatic.
China has very strict quarantine rules that require anyone entering the country to spend two weeks in isolation, followed by a week or two of daily health surveillance at home or in a hotel, with many restrictions on travel and social interactions.
The nuisance of the pandemic could reduce the number of visitors, as they did in Tokyo. You could also protect nations that would simply rather not participate.
An avid athlete and an increasingly close ally of Mr. Xi, Mr. Putin has not yet finalized his attendance, popularly as a popularly known as China’s public statement last month that it will be held at the opening ceremony on February 4 at Beijing’s National Stadium Known bird’s nest.
Steven Lee Myers reported from Seoul, South Korea, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Reporting or research was contributed by Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia; Keith Bradsher and Claire Fu in Beijing; Choe Sang-hun in Seoul; Hisako Ueno in Tokyo; Stephen Castle in London; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Constant Méheut in Paris; and Christopher F. Schütze in Berlin.