• REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, STAFF REPORT

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Australia will join the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, as other allies weighed similar moves to protest China’s human rights record.

The United States on Monday said its government officials will boycott the Beijing Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” just weeks after talks aimed at easing tense relations between the two superpowers.

China said the U.S. will “pay the price” for its decision and warned of “resolute countermeasures” in response.

Morrison said the decision was made because of Australia’s struggles to reopen diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Beijing’s moves to slow and block imports of Australian goods.

Other allies have been slow to commit to joining the diplomatic boycott.

Britain is considering approving limited government attendance at the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics that would stop short of a full diplomatic boycott, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

An outright ban on ministerial and diplomatic representation at the Winter Games remains a possibility, the report said.

Japan is considering not sending Cabinet members to the Beijing Games after the United States announced its diplomatic boycott, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun daily reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed government sources. It could, however, dispatch lower-level officials, the report added.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo will act in its “national interests” by considering the potential impact on Japan’s diplomacy and the Olympics.

Kishida will have to balance Japan’s economic interests in China with calls from conservative lawmakers to join the U.S. diplomatic boycott amid not only Tokyo’s growing focus on human rights but also Beijing’s moves near Taiwan and its repeated intrusions by government ships into waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Beijing also claims the islands, which it calls Diaoyu.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said Tuesday his government told China in October that it won’t send any diplomatic representatives, citing a range of factors “mostly to do with COVID.” Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said after the U.S. announcement that the government is talking to other countries about the matter but no decision has been made, CTV News reported.

President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China denies all rights abuses.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday told a media briefing that his country opposes the U.S. diplomatic boycott and promised “resolute countermeasures” in response.

“The United States will pay a price for its mistaken acts,” he said, without giving details. “Let’s all wait and see.”

The Winter Games are due to begin about six months after the conclusion of the Summer Games in Tokyo, which were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC’s coordination commission chief for the Beijing Olympics. “We have to be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”

The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Asked whether China would consider a diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games in the United States, Zhao said the U.S. boycott has “damaged the foundation and atmosphere” of sports exchange and cooperation on the Olympics.

The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the U.S. Congress and rights groups, comes despite an effort to stabilize ties between the world’s two largest economies, with a video meeting last month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday that unless other countries join the boycott, it would undermine the message that China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable.

“Now I think the only option really that is available to us is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser said.

Announcing Australia’s plans, Morrison said Beijing had not responded to several issues raised by Canberra including alleged human rights abuses.

“So it is not surprising therefore that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those Games,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Relations between Australia and China, its top trade partner, are at a low ebb over after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities, including coal, beef, barley and wine.

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