The U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics snowballed Wednesday as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom signed on, sending a message on human rights violations and drawing a frosty response from China.
The Biden administration’s Monday decision was followed by announcements from top U.S. allies, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said there would be “effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. No ministers are expected to attend and no officials.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill that “we are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government.”
“That is why we are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games this winter,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Our athletes have been training for years and are looking forward to compete at the highest level against athletes from around the world.”
Hours earlier, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that no dignitaries would join the Olympic delegation, prompting a Chinese official to retort that “no one would care about whether they come or not.”
“We have reiterated many times that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a Wednesday press conference, as translated by the Xinhua News Agency.
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“China hasn’t invited any Australian government official to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics,” he said. “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.”
That said, the absence of top Western dignitaries threatens to keep China’s human rights record in the spotlight and take the shine off Beijing’s image as host of the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in February.
Lithuania announced last week that it would refuse to send a diplomatic delegation. New Zealand also plans to keep its government officials at home, although Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the decision was made in October based on the COVID-19 pandemic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Monday that no U.S. government officials would accompany the athletes. She cited Beijing’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home,” she said. “We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”
President Biden has faced calls for months to pull out of what critics call the “genocide Olympics” based on the Chinese Communist Party’s shaky human rights record.
Beijing has been accused of carrying out an intensified campaign of repression against Muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region in western China and other minorities, putting them in reeducation camps. The Chinese government also has reportedly tried to limit the growth of the Uyghur population, destroyed mosques and shrines, and sent children to boarding schools for indoctrination. Britain’s United Nations ambassador called the situation “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
China also has cracked down on protests and civil liberties in Hong Kong and has come under fire for last month’s apparent disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a top Communist Party official of sexual assault.
While the administration’s decision disappointed those calling for a total boycott, even staunch Biden critics such as Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the move struck the right balance.
“I agree with the diplomatic boycott. It’s something that I’ve called for for a long time,” Mr. Cruz said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “I don’t agree with what some people are calling for, which is a boycott of our athletes, which is stopping our athletes from going to the Olympics. I think that would be a mistake.”
He cited President Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which prompted the Soviet Union to retaliate by skipping the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“I understand the sentiment behind it, but it was the same sentiment that led Jimmy Carter to do that in 1980, and I think it didn’t work then,” Mr. Cruz said. “I don’t think it’s fair to punish our athletes. I think there are young men and young women who have spent years, decades, practicing and getting ready for the Olympics. And I don’t think it’s fair to make them the victims.”
Mr. Cruz said the Beijing Olympics should be used as an opportunity “to highlight the evil that they’re perpetrating.”
Disagreeing was Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, who blasted Mr. Biden for ignoring pleas to support a relocation of the games from China.
“President Biden had the chance to actually stand up to Beijing’s genocide and human rights abuses, but again, he has chosen appeasement and weakness over strength and resolve,” Mr. Scott said in a Monday statement. “Time and time again, Biden does the bare minimum when it comes to dealing with China, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing would respond with “firm countermeasures” and warned that a diplomatic boycott could hurt relations with the U.S. on other matters.
“The U.S. should stop politicizing sports and stop disrupting and undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, lest it should affect bilateral dialogue and cooperation in important areas and international and regional issues,” Mr. Zhao said at a Monday press briefing.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said his focus was on the athletes at the games, which run Feb. 4-20. The Paralympic Games will follow from March 4-13.
“The IOC has always been concerned with the participation of the athletes in the Olympic Games,” Mr. Bach said in a video news conference, as reported by Reuters. “We welcome the support for their Olympic teams [that] all these governments have been emphasizing.”
Speculation swirled Wednesday about whether the snub would mushroom. Italy, which is slated to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, has reportedly decided not to join the boycott.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly accepted an invitation to appear at the games, which could make him the first state leader to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.