London/Beijing: The UK and Australia on Wednesday joined hands with the US in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, citing China’s human rights abuses.
For months, activists have called for a boycott of the Games over human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang and Tibet and its political crackdown in Hong Kong.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in separate statements said their diplomats will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in February next year.
In a parliamentary statement, Johnson said he typically did not support “sporting boycotts”. But he said there were no plans for British ministers to attend the Games over alleged human rights abuses in China.
In Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Canberra on Wednesday that the decision to join the US boycott was in response to “human rights abuses” in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province and “many other issues that Australia has consistently raised”.
Australian athletes would however attend the Games to be held in February, he said. Morrison said it was “no surprise” that Australia had joined the boycott, given relations with China had deteriorated in recent years.
“I’m doing it because it’s in Australia’s national interest,” he said, adding that “It’s the right thing to do.” He accused China of rejecting opportunities to improve relations, insisting Australia remained open to bilateral talks.
In recent years, tensions have risen between China and several Western countries, over a number of diplomatic issues.
The statements of Johnson and Morrison follows a decision on Monday the Biden administration to not send an official US delegation to the Games, the first country to confirm a diplomatic boycott.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US boycott was a statement against China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.”
US athletes will still be allowed to compete in the Games, but the administration will not be sending government officials. The same policy applies for the 2022 Winter Paralympics, scheduled for Beijing in March.
The US has accused China of genocide in its repression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in the western region of Xinjiang, an allegation China has repeatedly rejected.
Relations are also strained over China’s suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong, and because of concerns for the top-ranked Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who has not been seen in public for weeks after she accused a top official of assault.
Other countries, including Canada and Japan, are also said to be considering diplomatic boycotts of the games.
New Zealand has confirmed it will not send officials to Beijing mostly because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it also voiced concern over human rights issues in China.
China has been accused by the US and other Western nations of imprisoning more than a million Muslim-majority Uyghurs in detention centres in Xinjiang, where some former detainees claim they were tortured.
China denies the allegations, saying the camps are re-education centres aimed to fight separatism and Islamist terrorism in Xinjiang.
In Beijing, foreign ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that China has reiterated many times that the Winter Olympic Games is “not a stage for political posturing and manipulation.”
“China hasn’t invited any Australian government official to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. In fact, no one would care whether they come or not, and Australian politicians’ political stunt for selfish gains has no impact whatsoever on the Olympics to be successfully held by Beijing,” he said.
“The world will see a streamlined, safe and splendid Winter Olympics to be successfully held in Beijing as scheduled,” Wang said on the February 4-20 Games.