After news broke that the US would not send any officials or diplomats to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, Australia has since announced it will do the same, staging a formal boycott of the Games over China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur minorities in the country.
News of Australia’s decision to diplomatically boycott the Games comes after the Biden administration announced it would not send any diplomats or officials, while still allowing its athletes to compete. Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed such sentiments, saying athletes could still compete at the Games despite the boycott from officials. As the Prime Minister explained, the news should come as “no surprise”, given the breakdown in the relationship between Australia and China in recent years.
“I’m doing it because it’s in Australia’s national interest,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity – and possibly even genocide – against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the region of Xinjiang. According to human rights groups, it’s believed China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, while sentencing hundreds of thousands to prison terms. The BBC reports that former camp detainees alleged they were tortured and sexually abused, while evidence also suggests Uyghurs are being used as forced labour.
Following the announcement from the US, China warned that the United States would “pay the price” for the boycott. Beijing threatened unspecified countermeasures, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling reporters to stay tuned for further details on just how China will respond. “The US attempt to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics out of ideological prejudice, based on lies and rumours, will only expose (its) sinister intentions.”
Zhao added, “The Winter Olympics are not a stage for political shows and political manipulation,” accusing the US of “actions that interfere in and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
Even so, many have praised the US for its stance and for speaking out against Chinese human rights abuses. As White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, the administration would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Games due to China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” She added that sending official representation would simply signal that the Games were “business as usual,” adding “And we simply can’t do that.”
As Craig Foster wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Beijing 2022 is not a “celebration of humanity” as the International Olympic Committee would have you believe. It is a celebration of crimes against humanity, and we must take a stand.”
Foster went on to write: “The obligation of sport to respect and promote basic human rights has never been more evident. Nor the vacuousness of claims by sport to a false neutrality. As Black Lives Matter taught us, silence is violence. If that is true for each of us, how much greater for a global sport that exists as a multibillion-dollar enterprise with vast social reach?”
“Sport is not neutral, it never has been. It is used by governments to promote a manufactured image, tourism, geopolitical strength, Nazism in 1936, racial segregation during apartheid and in China’s case today, a dangerous reinterpretation of human rights norms that will bleed around the world if not challenged now.”
As Foster added, “Humanism and non-discrimination are sold as part of the Olympic dream. Do Uyghurs not count? What about young Uyghur athletes with dreams like yours, Olympians? While you jump and slalom, they are imprisoned and enslaved.”