SEOUL – Neither President Biden nor other US officials will come, but the Russian leader can. New Zealand says it decided a few months ago that its diplomats would not be present. Other countries’ political leaders are expected to bow too, whether they announce a clear cause or not.
In less than two months, China will open the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and now a diplomatic boycott to protest the host country’s repressive policies.
The White House’s announcement on Monday that no official delegation will be present sparked anger in Beijing, where Chinese officials on Tuesday pledged to retaliate.
“It will only make people see the sinister intentions of the American side and only make the American side lose more morality and credibility,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Prominent state media columnist Chen Weihua of China Daily, caustically expressed the hope that Mr. Biden will live long enough to see China boycott the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
While the impact of Mr Biden’s decision on other countries remains to be seen, some have already made it clear that they will also be looking for ways to voice their displeasure with China’s policies without barring athletes from attending events.
Critics of China hailed the White House’s move, saying it has returned international attention to where it should be: China’s long history of human rights abuses. These include the persecution in Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as in Xinjiang, where over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims have gone through mass detention and re-education camps.
The International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that the boycott was “the right choice, both morally and strategically.”
The White House announcement could lend support to politicians in other countries who have also called on their governments not to support the Communist Party government by attending it.
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Among those who said they were considering joining the boycott were Canada and Australia, which diplomatically entered into conflict with China this year.
“Australia should not relax but move forward quickly to demonstrate our long-standing commitment to protecting human rights and to identify where they are being violated,” Senator Eric Abetz from the country’s ruling Liberal Party said in a statement. He has called for a diplomatic boycott since last year.
While the American decision was expected and, administration officials said, had been broadcast to Beijing prior to Monday’s announcement, the Communist Party government looked flustered as well as outraged.
Censors appear to have banned Internet searches for the word “boycott,” while initial reports in state media focused on statements by Chinese officials who described the effort as politicizing the sporting event in violation of the Olympic spirit. Others, including the press secretary of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said this step will have no effect.
Officials in Beijing last week tried to stave off any prospect of a diplomatic boycott by saying they would not invite foreign leaders to the Winter Games, instead leaving the task to National Olympic Committees around the world.
This, however, runs counter to the Foreign Ministry’s announcement last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend the meeting at the invitation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Mr Xi attended the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, when Russia also faced a diplomatic boycott.
For many countries, the question of how to interact with China in relation to the Olympics has been a daunting one.
According to the Olympic tradition, Italy, which will host the Winter Games in 2026, is expected to send official emissaries to these Games, as if taking the baton from one host to another.
However, sentiment towards the Chinese government in Europe soured. On Monday, the European Council, which represents the heads of state and government of the European Union, extended by another year the restrictions on business and travel that it imposed a year ago on officials involved in the repression in Xinjiang.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that his country has not yet decided 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.
“We would like to make our own decision in terms of our national interests,” said Mr. Kishida.
New Zealand said it would not send senior officials, mainly due to the pandemic, but also raised concerns about human rights in China.
Given the diplomatic sensitivity, some countries shy away from any blatant rebuke to Beijing.
South Korea said nothing about US boycott plans, but previously stressed that it hopes the Beijing Games will contribute to regional peace and prosperity, as well as inter-Korean relations. President Moon Jae-in’s office said in a statement that he had “no comment on another country’s diplomatic decision.”
Richard Baka, co-director of the Olympic Research Network at the University of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, said he expects at least 20 to 30 countries to keep their diplomats at home. This would be a way to raise concerns without introducing an outright ban on which athletes could participate.
“I think he will get a lot of support because he is soft and not too tough,” he said. “If countries want to, they can even support it without a statement, or downgrade it without calling it a boycott.”
The obstacles to attending the Beijing Olympics are not only diplomatic.
Only a handful of world leaders attended the Tokyo Summer Games, which were held with a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. These include French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, and US First Lady Jill Biden, who led a delegation for the rarely attended opening ceremony. The closing ceremony was attended by US Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China has very strict quarantine rules requiring everyone who enters the country to spend two weeks in isolation and then monitor their health status at home or in a hotel for a week or two daily, with many restrictions on travel and social interaction.
According to the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for participants, China will move away from quarantine for those fully vaccinated, although it will still require daily Covid tests and all participants will have to remain in the tourist bubble near the Olympic venues.
China is very reluctant to allow a handful of officials who have arrived in the country in recent months to bring in large numbers of assistants without quarantining them.
A pandemic could reduce attendance, as happened in Tokyo. They could also cover up peoples who simply did not want to be present.
Mr. Putin, an avid athlete and an increasingly close ally of Mr. Xi, has yet to give final confirmation of his participation, despite China’s public announcement last month that he will attend the opening ceremony on February 4 in Beijing. national park. The stadium, commonly known as the Bird’s Nest.
Report or study provided by Yang Zhuang from Melbourne, Australia; Keith Bradsher and Claire Fu in Beijing; Choi Sang Hoon in Seoul; and Hisako Ueno in Tokyo.