SEOUL – Neither President Biden nor other U.S. officials are going, but the Russian leader could. New Zealand says it decided months ago that its diplomats would not be attending. Political leaders of other nations should also bow out, whether or not they state an explicit reason.
In less than two months, China will open the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and now also a diplomatic boycott intended to protest against the host country’s repressive policies.
The White House’s announcement on Monday that it would not send any official delegation sparked anger in Beijing, where Chinese officials again vowed on Tuesday to fight back.
âIt will only show people the sinister intentions of the American side and only cause the American side to lose more morality and credibility,â said Chinese Foreign Ministry 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 Summer Olympics to be held in Los Angeles in 2028.
While the effect of Biden’s decision on other countries remains to be seen, several have already signaled that they too will seek ways to express their dissatisfaction with China’s policies while avoiding d ” prohibit athletes from attending.
The decision will be particularly complicated for European countries, which have strongly criticized China’s violations of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The European Union has just renewed for another year the business and travel restrictions it imposed a year ago on officials involved in the crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.
And in July, the European Parliament, which often takes strong moral stances, overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution calling on diplomats to boycott the Winter Olympics “unless the Chinese government demonstrates verifiable improvement in performance. the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Uyghurs of the Xinjiang Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.
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At the same time, many European countries have extensive trade ties with Beijing that they don’t want to jeopardize, especially for a move that might offend China, not change it.
An official response on Tuesday from the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, to a question on the boycott offered no support for the US position.
Major sporting events like the Olympics, with their universal audiences, “can be instrumental in spreading positive values ââand promoting freedom and human rights globally,” the commission said in a statement. âWe are ready to help towards this end. However, such platforms should not be used for political propaganda purposes. “
Participation in the Olympics in any form is a decision for individual Member States, which will certainly be divided on this issue, as on many others.
Italy would not join the US boycott, an Italian government official said on Tuesday, while France, Germany and Britain were evasive.
If the Italian position changes, however, it will be a direct blow for Beijing. Italy will host the Winter Games in 2026 and is expected, by Olympic tradition, to send official envoys to these Games, virtually accepting the relay from one host to another.
Only a handful of world leaders attended the Summer Games in Tokyo, which took place after a year of delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among them were French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, and he is expected to attend those games due to protocol.
His office said on Tuesday that Macron had taken note of the US diplomatic boycott and that France would “coordinate at European level” on the issue, Agence France-Presse reported.
âWhen we have human rights concerns, we let the Chinese know,â Macron’s office said. “We took sanctions related to Xinjiang last March.”
Germany is yet to be sworn in to its new government, and while the coalition is expected to take a slightly tougher stance on China, the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to provide a response on Tuesday. . At a press conference, after a third question on the topic, he simply said, âWe think it’s important to do everything you can to get the world to work together internationally.
Britain has not made a decision on a diplomatic boycott either, but there are calls within the ruling Conservative Party to do so.
Iain Duncan Smith, former party leader and outspoken critic of Beijing policy, welcomed the US announcement and urged Britain 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, adding in another message that many parliamentarians are in favor of such a decision.
The British government’s approach to China has hardened amid mounting tensions over Chinese policy in its former colony, Hong Kong, a direct embarrassment for London. Speaking ahead of the US announcement, UK Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told LBC News: “I can tell you categorically that I will not be attending the Olympic Games in ‘winter.”
China critics praised white people House to attract international attention on China’s long record of human rights abuses. These include crackdowns in Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as Xinjiang, where more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims cycled through detention and mass re-education camps.
The International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that a boycott was “the right choice both morally and strategically.”
Canada and Australia, which both got tangled up diplomatically with China this year, are also considering joining the boycott.
“Australia must not be complacent but move forward with haste to demonstrate our long-standing commitment to stand up for human rights and speak out where they are violated,” said Eric Abetz, Liberal Party Senator in power in this country, in a press release. He has been calling for a diplomatic boycott since last year.
Although the US decision was expected and, administration officials said, forwarded to Beijing ahead of Monday’s announcement, the Communist Party government appeared flustered and angry.
Censors appeared to ban online searches for the word “boycott,” while early reports in state media focused on statements by Chinese officials calling efforts to politicize a sporting event in violation of the law. Olympic spirit.
Officials in Beijing last week tried to anticipate any prospect of a diplomatic boycott by saying they would not invite foreign leaders to attend the Winter Games, leaving that task to national Olympic committees around the world.
This, however, contradicted a statement by the Foreign Ministry last month in which Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would participate at the invitation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Xi attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, at a time when Russia was also facing diplomatic boycotts.
For many countries, especially China’s Asian neighbors, the question of how to engage with Beijing around the Olympics is a heavy one. Given diplomatic sensitivities, some nations have avoided any explicit reprimand from Beijing.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday his country has yet to decide who will represent the country in Beijing, although some lawmakers have called for a boycott over human rights violations, territorial disputes and Chinese aggression. in regional seas.
New Zealand said it had also expressed human rights concerns in China, but would not send senior officials mainly because of the pandemic.
The obstacles to participating in the Beijing Olympics are not just diplomatic.
China has very strict quarantine rules, requiring anyone entering the country to spend two weeks in isolation, followed by a week or two of daily health surveillance at home or hotel, with many restrictions on travel. and social interactions.
The inconvenience of the pandemic could decrease attendance, as they did in Tokyo. They could also cover nations that would simply prefer not to attend.
Mr. Putin, an avid sportsman and an increasingly close ally to Mr. Xi, has yet to give a final confirmation of his presence despite China’s public statement last month that he would attend the opening ceremony , to be held on February 4 at the Beijing National Palace. Stadium, popularly known as the Bird’s Nest.
Steven Lee Myers reported in Seoul and Steven Erlanger in Brussels. Reports or research provided 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 MÃ©heut in Paris and Christopher F. Schuetze in Berlin.