Australian govt officials will not attend Beijing Olympics, says PM Morrison

A June 2021 photo showing protesters in Sydney calling on the Australian government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China's human rights record. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australia will join the United States-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest the nation's alleged human rights abuses, in a move set to further worsen relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's move makes Australia the first major country to follow the US in deciding against sending officials to the spectacle starting Feb 4 - while both will allow their athletes to participate.

The decision also comes after China threatened the US with retaliation, warning that ties between the world's two largest economies may suffer.

"The human rights abuses in Xinjiang and many other issues that Australia has consistently raised, we have been very pleased and very happy to talk to the Chinese government about these issues," Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday (Dec 8).

"But the Chinese government has consistently not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues," he said, adding that it should not be a surprise that Australian officials "would, therefore, not be going to China for those games".

A spokesman from China's embassy in Canberra said some Australian politicians were engaged in political posturing.

"As everyone knows, Australia is solely responsible for the current plight of Sino-Australia relations," the embassy said in a statement on its website.

>"Australia's decision not to send officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics runs counter to its public statements of so-called hopes that China-Australia relations could improve."

The embassy urged Canberra to take concrete measures to create favourable conditions for the improvement of ties.

The Biden administration's decision for a diplomatic boycott has left many US allies trying to balance relations with its American security partner, and China, a major source of trade.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the government told China in October that it would not send any diplomatic representatives, citing a range of factors "mostly to do with Covid".

Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said after the US announcement that the government is talking to other countries about the matter but no decision has been made, CTV News reported.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo will act in its national interests and his government has not made any decision. His government is considering sending lower level officials to the games, the Sankei newspaper reported.

Under Mr Morrison's watch, Australia's relations with China - its largest trading partner - have nosedived in the wake of his government's call last year for independent investigators to enter Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

Beijing inflicted a range of trade reprisals, including crippling tariffs on Australian barley and wine, while blocking coal shipments.

Mr Morrison said he is keen for talks with China about their issues, "whether it's their concerns with our foreign interference legislation or foreign investment rules where Australia takes a strong stand".

He said: "They have been critical in Australia in our efforts to ensure we have a strong national defence force. Most recently to our decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday the US decided not to send any diplomatic or official representation "given the PRC's ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses", referring to China by its formal name.

China regularly hits back at the genocide accusations levelled by the US government and others, calling them "the lie of the century".

Asked on Tuesday at a regular briefing whether China would consider a diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games in the United States, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US boycott has "damaged the foundation and atmosphere" of sports exchange and cooperation on the Olympics.

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