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China denounces possible US Olympic boycott as ‘provocation’

China denounces possible US Olympic boycott as ‘provocation’

Spokesman accuses Washington of ‘hyping diplomatic boycott without even being invited’

China has said a potential diplomatic boycott of the forthcoming Beijing Winter Olympics by the Biden administration is “a stain on the spirit of the Olympic charter” and “sensationalist and politically manipulative”, in what appears to be a further rift in the already strained bilateral relations.

CNN reported on Monday that the Biden administration was expected this week to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Games by not sending US government officials to China.

Such a move, while highly symbolic, would still allow the US Olympics team to compete in Beijing in February.

The last time the US staged a full boycott of the Olympics was during the cold war in 1980, when the former president Jimmy Carter snubbed the Moscow summer Games along with 64 other countries and territories.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, on Monday accused Washington of “hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games”.

“I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” Zhao said. “It is a grave travesty of the spirit of the Olympic charter, a blatant political provocation and a serious affront to the 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

A US diplomatic boycott would come amid escalating tensions between China and many western countries. It was first raised by Joe Biden last month when he said he was considering a “diplomatic boycott” as pressures grew in the US Congress over its concerns about China’s human rights record, including over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Politicians including Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, have advocated a boycott as protest.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks over the treatment of the Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai. The 35-year-old former doubles world No 1 last month accused a former senior Chinese politician of having coerced her into sex.

Countries from the US to Australia have since called on China’s authorities to ensure Peng’s wellbeing, and the Women’s Tennis Association last week announced the suspension of future games in China.

Rights groups have also seized on the opportunity to urge the international community to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

In the UK, the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told MPs last month that “no tickets have been booked” for the Beijing Games in February. But he also added that the UK government “have long had a policy of thinking that sporting boycotts do not work and that it is a matter for the International Olympic Committee to decide whether the athletes go.”

The Foreign Office said on Monday that “no decisions have yet been made” about the government’s attendance at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

In Australia, Canberra last week joined 19 other countries in not signing the Olympic Truce – a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece and ensures conflicts don’t disrupt the sports competition – with China in order to send a message to Beijing.

On Friday, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said his government “was considering those matters and working through those issues”.

Zhao on Monday said in response to Morrison’s comments that “no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the Olympics to be successfully held by Beijing”.

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