Australia will not send officials to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, joining the US diplomatic boycott of the event.
Canberra’s move comes amid a “disagreement” with China on a multitude of issues, from Australian foreign interference laws to a recent decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, Morrison said.
He also cited human rights violations in the Xinjiang region and Beijing’s ongoing freezing of ministerial contacts with Canberra.
“Australia will not back down from the strong position we have had to defend Australia’s interests, and it is obviously no surprise that we do not send Australian officials to these Games,” did he declare.
The move, which did not prevent athletes from attending the 2022 Olympics, comes a day after the United States announced its diplomatic boycott.
The US decision was made on what Washington called the Chinese Uyghur minority genocide and other human rights violations.
Australia’s relations with China have been in free fall in recent years, with Beijing introducing a series of punitive sanctions on Australian goods in a fierce political conflict that has plunged relations into the most serious crisis since the repression of the place. Tiananmen in 1989.
China is angry at Australia’s willingness to legislate against overseas influence operations, ban Huawei from 5G contracts and call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Great sporting nation”
A multitude of Australian products, including barley, coal, cotton, timber, lobsters, wine, beef, grains and dairy, have all come under sanctions from its biggest business partner.
Australia’s recent move to outfit its navy with nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense pact with Britain and the United States widely seen as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific region further infuriated Beijing.
At least two Australians are currently being held in China, with journalist Cheng Lei being held for more than a year and academic Yang Jun on trial on charges of espionage.
Morrison said Canberra officials had “always been open” to talks with Beijing, but those attempts were rejected.
“There has been no obstacle to this happening on our side, but the Chinese government still has not accepted these opportunities to meet with us on these issues,” he said.
“Australia is a great sporting nation and I separate the problems of sport a lot from these other political problems. They are problems between two governments. And I would like to see these problems resolved.”
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has said it respects the government’s decision, adding that it would not impact the Australian team’s preparations.
“The AOC is very focused on ensuring that team members can travel safely to China given the complexity of the Covid environment, with our athletes departing from locations overseas,” said the Managing Director Matt Carroll.
“Getting athletes to Beijing safely, competing safely and getting them home safely remains our biggest challenge.
“Our Australian athletes have been training and competing with this Olympic dream for four years now and we are doing everything in our power to make sure we can help them succeed.”
About 40 Australian athletes are expected to take part in the Beijing Games, which will open on February 4.
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