sydney | Australia announced on Wednesday that it is joining the United States in a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics. “No one cares,” retorted China.
Canberra’s decision not to send any official representative to the Olympics comes amid a host of disputes between Australia and China, ranging from the issue of Australia’s foreign interference laws to the recent decision to acquire pennies. nuclear-powered sailors, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“Australia will not back down from the strong stance they have taken in defending their interests, and of course it is no surprise that we are not sending Australian officials to these Games,” he said. , also mentioning human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and Beijing’s reluctance to meet with Australian officials for talks.
Asked during a press briefing on Wednesday, the spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Wang Wenbin, assured that his country had never intended to invite senior Australian officials.
“Nobody cares whether they come or not,” he said. “Their political politics and their little games will not change the success of the Olympics.”
Canberra’s decision “shows everyone that the Australian government is blindly following in the footsteps of a certain country,” Wang said, without naming the United States.
The Australian decision, which does not prevent athletes from participating in the Games, comes after the announcement by the United States of their “diplomatic boycott” in the name of the defense of human rights. Beijing retorted that “the United States will pay the price for its bad move”.
Human rights groups hailed Canberra’s decision.
Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch in China, called it “a crucial step towards challenging the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkish communities”.
Activists say at least a million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities, mostly Muslims, are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang. China is accused of forcibly sterilizing women there and imposing forced labor.
Beijing claims that the camps are in fact vocational training centers intended to keep their residents away from radicalization.
“Great sporting nation”
Relations between Australia and China have deteriorated sharply in recent years. China has imposed a series of sanctions on Australian products in the context of a political dispute that has plunged bilateral relations into their most serious crisis since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square (1989).
China was notably angered by the ban on awarding 5G contracts to Huawei, and the demand for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s decision to equip its navy with nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense pact with Britain and the United States, widely seen as a bid to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific region, has also drawn the ire of Beijing.
Additionally, at least two Australians are currently being held in China: journalist Cheng Lei for over a year and academic Yang Jun on trial for espionage.
Mr Morrison assured that Canberra “has always been open” to discussions with Beijing, but that his attempts have been rejected by the economic giant. “The Chinese government has never accepted that we meet to discuss these issues,” he said.
“Australia is a great sporting nation and I make a very clear distinction between sporting and political issues. These are issues between two governments. And I would like these questions to be resolved,” he said.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said it respected the government’s decision, adding it would not impact Australia’s team preparations.
“The AOC is very mindful that team members can travel to China safely, given the complexity of the environment related to the coronavirus”, underlined its general manager Matt Carroll. “Getting athletes to Beijing safely, having them compete safely, and getting them home safely remains our biggest challenge.”
About 40 Australian athletes are expected to take part in the Beijing Games, which open on February 4.