Canada has joined the United States and Australia in imposing a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s human rights record.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would not be sending an official delegation to the games, which will be held from February 4 to 20 in the Chinese capital.
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Trudeau said he did not think the decision would “come as a surprise to China”.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations,” he said.
Canadian athletes would still be participating in the Olympics, Trudeau added.
The move follows similar decisions from Australia and the US, where President Joe Biden’s administration cited China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in its western region of Xinjiang as the reason for its Olympics boycott.
“US diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual … and we simply can’t do that,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier this week.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said on Wednesday that “there will be effectively a diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics in Beijing, but he reiterated his opposition to sporting boycotts, which he said are not sensible.
“No ministers are expected to attend and no officials,” Johnson said in Parliament.
The diplomatic boycotts risk further straining ties between the Western nations and China, which said on Wednesday that it had not invited British ministers to the games.
“The Beijing Winter Olympics is a gathering of Olympic athletes and winter sports lovers across the world, not a tool of political manipulation for any country,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.
“Making an issue out of the presence of government officials at the Beijing Winter Olympics is in essence a political smearing campaign,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Olympics boycott seems guaranteed to worsen already strained ties with China. The relationship deteriorated after the Chinese authorities in 2018 detained two Canadian businessmen, accusing them of spying.
Ottawa said the move was retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition request – an accusation rejected by Beijing.
Meng, who spent three years under house arrest in Vancouver, reached a deal with US prosecutors and went back to China in late September, and Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig soon after were released and returned to Canada.
But Trudeau’s government continues to speak out against China’s rights record.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Parliament also passed a non-binding resolution describing China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang as “genocide”.
The United Nations and rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been detained.
China has denied abuses, saying its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.