— Published 26 November 2021

Australia sides with the US for Beijing 2022

The threat is becoming clearer. It is also gaining ground. After the United States, a second major power in the Olympic movement is speaking out about a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Australia could, in turn, announce in the coming days its decision not to send any official delegation to China for the next Olympic event.

The information was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald. The newspaper says that “Australia is considering not sending any government representatives to the Beijing Winter Olympics next year, in response to a series of calls for a diplomatic boycott from a growing number of MPs.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the option of a diplomatic boycott is the subject of a consensus between the country’s two main political forces, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. It would have been reinforced by the recent case of tennis player Peng Shuai.

Australia would thus be following in the footsteps of the United States. The Canberra government is even waiting for the American administration’s decision before advancing an additional pawn. As a reminder, Joe Biden said last week that he was “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games in response to the human rights violations perpetrated by the Beijing regime in Tibet, Hong Kong and the Uighur community.

The Sydney daily suggests that the Australians would be reluctant to use diplomacy on their own, but would be prepared to follow the Americans in doing so. In such a case, Canada and the United Kingdom could also join the movement.

Relations between Australia and China have been strained to the point of collapse in recent years. On the commercial side, the Australian authorities have banned the Chinese group Huawei Technologies from its 5G Internet network. In retaliation, Beijing has imposed tariffs on a wide range of Australian products.

More recently, Australia has called for an independent investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic in China. Finally, the agreement between Canberra, Washington and London to build nuclear submarines, in addition to provoking a crisis with France, has greatly upset China. A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games would further increase tensions between the two countries.

The Chinese reaction? It took the rather unexpected form of an article from the official press agency Xinhua on Thursday 25 November. Presented as a “commentary”, it very directly evokes the threat of a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. But with a decidedly Chinese prism.

A small minority of politicians and groups are threatening to boycott Beijing 2022 because of alleged human rights problems in China,” writes Xinhua. But make no mistake: the boycott, whether of the entire Games or the opening ceremony, is a way to use the long-awaited winter sports event as a political tool. And one thing is clear: it only hurts the athletes of their own country.”

The official Chinese agency points out that the Beijing Winter Games will be held without foreign spectators, due to the health crisis. “It is therefore the athletes who would be most disappointed if their political leaders decided to boycott the opening ceremony,” it writes.

The Xinhua article goes on to list a litany of future competitors determined to have a unique and unforgettable Olympic experience in Beijing next February. Among them is Polish speed skater Zbigniew Brodka, Olympic champion at the 2014 Sochi Games, who has returned to competition for the Beijing Games. With these words, spoken last month and picked up by Xinhua: “For me, the return to China would be sentimental.”

With 70 days to go until the opening ceremony on Friday 26 November, the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games has not gone beyond the stage of a threat. But only one prominent dignitary has already announced his presence at the opening ceremony: Vladimir Putin, a personal guest of Chinese President Xi Jinping.