British PM Boris Johnson 'instinctively' against 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics boycott

The government in London has repeatedly condemned Beijing.
The government in London has repeatedly condemned Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday (July 7) said he was "instinctively" against boycotts after the main opposition Labour Party urged ministers and the royal family to snub the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights claims.

The government in London has repeatedly condemned Beijing and demanded the United Nations (UN) be allowed to examine claims that Uyghur Muslims in the western Xinjiang region are victims of abuses like torture and forced sterilisation.

But it has resisted calls to boycott Beijing's Games.

"I will certainly consider the proposal debated, but I must say that I am instinctively and always have been against sporting boycotts," Mr Johnson told MPs.

China last month accused the United States of "politicising sports", after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was seeking consensus among allies for a possible boycott.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Lisa Nandy and culture spokesman Jo Stevens on Tuesday said "we have consistently pressed the government for more robust actions to address this appalling situation".

"We are now calling on you to use the occasion of the Games to press the case for unfettered UN access to Xinjiang to conduct a full, transparent and independent investigation."

Beijing denies claims that more than a million Uyghur Muslims have been arbitrarily detained, and that some have been tortured or undergone forced sterilisation.

If the UN is not granted access by Sept 14, when the UN General Assembly's 76th session opens, "the UK government should not send ministers, royal family members or senior representatives to participate in any official duties or ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics", the Labour MPs said.

"A political boycott by the UK and other states would send a strong signal of the deep global concern with the plight of the Uyghurs and prevent the Games being a PR exercise for the Chinese authorities."

Britain's parliament recently took the unprecedented step of calling the treatment of Uyghurs "genocide", although the government maintains that only courts can make that legal definition.

More than 40 countries led by Canada voiced concerns at the UN Human Rights Council last month about China's actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet - triggering a fierce backlash from Beijing.

China denies mistreating the Uyghurs, insisting it is simply running vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.