Australia will not send officials to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, joining a US diplomatic boycott of the event and risking a further souring of relations with China.
The United States announced its boycott on Monday, citing China’s human rights “atrocities”, fuelling anger in China, which warned of “resolute countermeasures” in response.
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Morrison said Wednesday’s decision came because of Australia’s struggles to reopen diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang and Beijing’s moves against Australian imports.
“Australian government officials (will), therefore, not be going to China for those games. Australian athletes will, though,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
The formal boycott risks further straining Australia’s relations with China, its largest trading partner, which soured after Canberra introduced foreign interference laws, banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network, and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. A recent decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact has added to the tension.
Beijing had responded with tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal and wine.
Morrison said on Wednesday that his government was very happy to talk to China about their differences.
“There’s been no obstacle to that occurring on our side, but the Chinese government has consistently not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues,” he said.
All governments commit human rights violations but the Chinese government is the only Olympic host that is actively committing crimes against humanity.
A diplomatic boycott is the right step. It should not be the only measure to address abuses. https://t.co/Od7gGvBonw
— Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) December 7, 2021
Morrison said any further trade disruptions would be “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
The Winter Olympics begin in February next year. The Australian Olympic Committee said the diplomatic boycott will have no effect on the expected 40 Australian athletes who are set to compete.
Andrew Woodward, a former media adviser to the Sydney Olympics, told Al Jazeera that no one wanted to see a “boycott of the Olympics from an athletic point of view”.
“Think of how the world came together for the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year and the joy that brought many, many people,” he said. “Certainly there are many human rights issues in China to address but on the whole it is better to keep the sport and politics separate here.”
China responded furiously to Canberra’s move, saying no Australian officials had been invited to the Olympics and “no one would care about whether they come or not”.
“The Australian politicians’ political posturing and hyping for their own political interest have no impact whatsoever on the successful Beijing Olympic Games, ” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry.
He added that Australia was “blindly following certain countries in their steps to confuse right and wrong without a bottom line”.
Other US allies have been slow to commit to joining the boycott.
The United Kingdom is considering approving limited government attendance at the event in the Chinese capital that would stop short of a full diplomatic boycott, the Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.
An outright ban on ministerial and diplomatic representation at the Winter games remains a possibility, it added.
Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to games, too, the Sankei Shimbun daily said on Wednesday, citing unidentified government sources.
In South Korea, however, an aide to President Moon Jae-in told the Yonhap news agency that Seoul is not considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics.
New Zealand earlier said its government representatives would not attend, citing the coronavirus pandemic.