LONDON – No U.K. government minister will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday, calling it “effectively” a diplomatic boycott.
The announcement came after the White House and the Australian government confirmed diplomatic boycotts of the Winter Olympics in February to protest Chinese human rights abuses. China has vowed to react with “firm countermeasures.”
When asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday whether Britain would join in the diplomatic action, Johnson said “There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing."
“No ministers are expected to attend and no officials," he told lawmakers. "The government has no hesitation in raising these issues with China, as I did with President Xi the last time I talked to him.”
Johnson said he did not believe “sporting boycotts are sensible,” and that remains his government's policy. The diplomatic moves by Britain, the U.S. and Australia do not affect their athletes’ ability to compete in the Winter Games.
Britain's Olympic Association is planning to send a delegation of about 50 to 60 athletes to Beijing.
Rights groups have called for a full-blown boycott of the Beijing Winter Games, citing Chinese human rights abuses against its Uyghur minority in the northwest Xinjiang province, which some have called genocide. They also point to Beijing’s suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong and a sweeping crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.
The White House confirmed Monday that it was staging a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing to protest Chinese human rights abuses. Australia followed suit earlier Wednesday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying it was “in Australia's national interest."
He referred to the worsening relations between his country and China — including a spat over Australia's decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines — as well as human rights concerns.
China's Foreign Ministry denounced Morrison’s announcement as “political posturing," adding “no one would care about whether (Australian officials) come or not.”
It wasn't immediately clear whether Britain's royal family could still attend the 2022 Games. Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II's daughter, was an Olympic equestrian and is president of the British Olympic Association. She is also a member of the International Olympic Committee.
Beijing's relations with Britain, the U.S. and Australia have plummeted after the three Western countries announced in September that they were forming a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance that allows for greater sharing of defense capabilities. The pact will provide Australia with nuclear reactors to power its submarines, but the subs will not be nuclear-armed.