Sydney, 8 December 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday confirmed that Australia would follow the United States’ lead in carrying out a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, saying the decision was “not surprising.”
The prime minister cited disagreements between Beijing and Canberra as the reason for the boycott, including China’s “concerns with our foreign interference legislation or foreign investment rules” as well as its criticism of Australia‘s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Morrison went on to point out that Australia also raised concern over “human rights abuses in Xinjiang and many other issues” and has been available to discuss them with China, “but the Chinese government has consistently not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues.”
The prime minister also confirmed that Australian athletes would compete in the Games, just as US ones will.
“It is not surprising… that Australian government officials would, therefore, not be going to China for those Games. Australian athletes will, though,” he said.
“Australia is a great sporting nation and I very much separate the issues of sport and these other political issues. They’re issues between two governments.”
China laughed off the development.
“The Australian government is blindly following certain countries, so it cannot distinguish right from wrong,” Foreign Office spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing.
“China never had any plans to invite any Australian official to the Games.”
The Chinese Embassy in Australia meanwhile said in a statement that the diplomatic boycott “runs counter to a publicly pronounced expectation to improve China-Australia relations” as it blamed Canberra.
“As we all know, the blame for the current predicament of China-Australia relations lies squarely on the Australian side. China once again urges the Australian side to take practical measures to create favorable conditions for improving bilateral relations,” the statement said.
The embassy also wished good luck to Australian athletes at the Games, adding: “Australia‘s success at the Beijing Winter Olympics depends on the performance of Australian athletes, not on the attendance of Australian officials, and the political posturing by some Australian politicians.”
On Monday, the US had announced that President Joe Biden’s administration would not send diplomatic or official representatives to the Games in China because of alleged human rights abuses, a decision sharply criticized by Beijing.
Washington should stop politicizing sports, Foreign Office spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday in Beijing, promising “resolute countermeasures.”
China has come under criticism for alleged human rights abuses including its treatment of minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans and its suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
The Winter Games will be held from February 4-20 next year.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will also not attend the Games, his spokesperson told broadcaster ARD.