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How Many Countries Will Follow the U.S. Boycott of Beijing’s Olympics?


SEOUL — Neither President Biden nor other American officials are going, but the Russian leader might. New Zealand says it decided months ago that its diplomats wouldn’t be attending. Political leaders of other nations are expected to bow out, too, whether they announce an explicit reason or not.

In less than two months, China will open the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and now also a diplomatic boycott intended to protest the host country’s repressive policies.

The White House announcement on Monday that it would send no official delegation prompted anger in Beijing, where Chinese officials on Tuesday once again vowed to retaliate.

“This will only make people see the sinister intentions of the American side and will only make the American side lose more morality and credibility,” said a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian.

A prominent columnist for state media, Chen Weihua of China Daily, bitingly expressed hope that Mr. Biden would live long enough to see China boycott the Summer Olympics to be held in Los Angeles in 2028.

Although the effect of Mr. Biden’s decision on other countries remains to be seen, several have already signaled that they, too, will seek ways to express displeasure with China’s policies while stopping short of prohibiting athletes from attending.

China’s critics welcomed the White House’s move, saying it focused international attention back where it should be: on China’s long record of human rights abuses. Those include crackdowns in Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as in Xinjiang, where more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims have cycled through mass detention and re-education camps.

The International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that a boycott was “the right choice both morally and strategically.”

The White House’s announcement could lend support to politicians in other countries who have also called on their governments not to show support for the Communist Party government by attending.

Among those that have said they are considering joining the boycott are Canada and Australia, both of which have tangled diplomatically with China this year.

“Australia must not be complacent but move ahead with speed to demonstrate our long commitment to upholding human rights and calling out where they are breached,” Eric Abetz, a senator from that country’s governing Liberal Party, said in a statement. He has been calling for a diplomatic boycott since last year.

Although the American decision had been expected and, administration officials said, conveyed to Beijing in advance of Monday’s announcement, the Communist Party government appeared flustered, as well as angered.

Censors appeared to bar searches online for the word “boycott,” while initial reports in state media focused on statements by Chinese officials calling the efforts a politicization of a sporting event in violation of the Olympic spirit. Others, including a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said the move would have no impact whatsoever.

Officials in Beijing last week tried to pre-empt any prospect of a diplomatic boycott by saying they would not extend invitations to foreign leaders to attend the Winter Games, leaving that task to national Olympic committees around the world instead.

That, however, contradicted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, would attend at the invitation of China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 at a time when Russia, too, faced diplomatic boycotts.

For many countries, the question of how to engage with China around the Olympic Games has been fraught.

Italy, which will host the Winter Games in 2026, would be expected by Olympic tradition to send official emissaries to these Games, accepting the baton, as it were, from one host to another.

Sentiment toward China’s government, however, has soured in Europe. On Monday, the European Council, which represents European Union heads of state and government, extended for another year the business and travel restrictions it imposed a year ago on officials involved in the Xinjiang crackdown.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan said on Tuesday that his country had not yet decided who would represent the country in Beijing, though some lawmakers have called for a boycott because of human rights abuses, territorial disputes and Chinese aggression in regional seas.

“We would like to make our own decision from the standpoint of our national interests,” Mr. Kishida said.

New Zealand said that it would not send top officials mostly because of the pandemic, but that it had also expressed concerns about human rights in China.

Given the diplomatic sensitivities, some nations have sidestepped any explicit rebuke of Beijing.

South Korea has said nothing about the American plans for a boycott but emphasized previously that it hoped the Games in Beijing would help promote regional peace and prosperity and inter-Korean relations. A statement by President Moon Jae-in’s office said it had “no comment to make on another country’s diplomatic decision.”

Richard Baka, co-director of the Olympic Research Network at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, said he expected at least 20 to 30 countries to keep their diplomats at home. Doing so would be a way to signal concern without imposing a complete ban that would involve athletes.

“I think it’ll have significant support because it’s soft, it’s not too hard,” he said. “If countries want to, they can even support it without making a statement or notch it down a level by not calling it a boycott.”

The obstacles to attending the Beijing Olympics are not just diplomatic.

Only a handful of world leaders attended the Summer Games in Tokyo, which were held after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. They included President Emmanuel Macron of France, whose country will host the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, and the American first lady, Jill Biden, who led a delegation at the sparsely attended opening ceremony. The American representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, attended the closing ceremony.

China has very stringent quarantine rules, requiring everyone who enters the country to spend two weeks in isolation, followed by a week or two of daily health monitoring at home or a hotel, with many restrictions on travel and social interactions.

According to the International Olympic Committee’s playbook for participants, China will waive the quarantine for those who are fully vaccinated, though it will still require daily Covid tests, and all participants will have to remain in a travel bubble near the Olympic venues.

China has been very reluctant to allow the handful of officials who have traveled to the country in recent months to bring in large numbers of aides without having them go through quarantine.

The annoyances of the pandemic could diminish attendance, as they did in Tokyo. They could also give cover to nations that would simply rather not attend.

Mr. Putin, an avid sportsman and an increasingly close ally of Mr. Xi’s, has not yet given final confirmation of his attendance despite China’s public statement last month that he would attend the opening ceremony, to be held on Feb. 4 in Beijing’s National Stadium, popularly known as the Bird’s Nest.

Reporting or research was contributed by Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia; Keith Bradsher and Claire Fu in Beijing; Choe Sang-hun in Seoul; and Hisako Ueno in Tokyo.





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