UK, Canada join US, Australia in Beijing Winter Olympics boycott

There are fears in Taiwan for the personal safety of its nationals in China.
By Qiao Long and Hwang Chun-mei
2021.12.08
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UK, Canada join US, Australia in Beijing Winter Olympics boycott Outdoor screen shows the slogan for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, 'Together for a Shared Future,' Dec. 8, 2021.
AFP

UPDATED at 5:30 P.M. EST on 2021-12-08

Australia and Canada on Wednesday said they would join a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing in February, citing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s human rights record, in a move that followed a similar announcement from Washington earlier in the week.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government had tried to discuss alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang and Beijing's moves against Australian imports, but had met with no response.

"So it is not surprising therefore that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those Games," Morrison said, adding that Australia would still send athletes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would keep its officials away from Beijing.

“We are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government,” he said..

“They should not be surprised we will not be sending any diplomatic representation." Trudeau added.

“It is important to send a strong signal to China," Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said. “Human rights violations are not acceptable.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the move by Australia was "political posturing."

"The Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation," Wang told a regular news briefing in Beijing. "China hasn’t invited any Australian government official to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. In fact, no one cares whether they come or not."

In London, prime minister Boris Johnson said his government wouldn't be sending any ministers, while Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper said Japan was considering preventing cabinet ministers from going in the wake of the U.S. boycott.

But a South Korean presidential official said the country is currently not considering a diplomatic boycott. The comment came as China aired a South Korean movie following several years of an unofficial ban on content produced in the country.

A South Korean foreign ministry official told Yonhap news agency that Seoul was "continuing to convey its position on cultural exchanges" to China, and hoped for more positive action ahead of the 30th anniversary of bilateral ties next year.

"There is speculation that China’s release of the film is not unrelated to the meeting between China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and South Korean national security adviser Suh Hoon in Tianjin [last week]," Yonhap reported.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, who heads the International Olympic Committee's coordination panel for the Beijing event, said the IOC always hoped to function separately from politics.

"We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world," Samaranch said. "We have to be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies."

The United States will host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and will bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

A member of a South Korean political family who gave only the pseudonym Wendy told RFA that bilateral ties first soured after the Obama administration deployed the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, triggering nationwide protests in China.

"Back then, a lot of companies operating in China lost money, and they boycotted the South Korean chain Lotte," she said. "A lot of people here are still pretty disgusted with China, because the losses sustained back then were huge."

She said the perceived diplomatic snubbing of then president Moon Jae-in during a 2017 trip to Beijing also still rankles today.

"He wanted to meet with [ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader] Xi Jinping, but ... the Chinese side sent a deputy foreign minister to meet with him," Wendy said

Meanwhile, officials in democratic Taiwan said they are considering their position vis-a-vis the Olympics.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told a news briefing on Tuesday that the government understands and respects Washington’s decision to boycott the Games.

The government is still collecting information about the issue and would convene an inter-agency meeting before responding to the boycott, she said.

Presidential spokesman Xavier Chang gave a similar response, but added that the government would do everything in its power to assist Taiwanese athletes competing at the Games.

But Hsiao I-min, executive secretary at Taiwan's Judicial Reform Foundation, said the most important issue should be the safety of Taiwanese nationals in China, which has stepped up military incursions near Taiwan in recent months, during the Games.

"If nobody can guarantee their safety, we should be calling on the government to think carefully about whether we should take part at all," Hsiao told RFA. "There shouldn't be too much risk of arbitrary arrest or personal safety issues for the athletes during an Olympic Games."

"But it's hard to be sure about the other people [including team coaches, officials, family members and supporters]. There's also the risk of being targeted for insulting China."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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