As the world gears up for the most political Olympic Games in a generation, the West has struggled to find a common position on the host nation.
The Games begin in Beijing on February 4, with China under fire over human rights abuse accusations, including the repression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region and the uncertain situation of tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault.
Global leaders are conscious that for many athletes, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they are reluctant to deprive them of that with a full-scale boycott. But some, in order to make a point, have decided their governments will diplomatically boycott the Games.
Here’s the full rundown of who’s shunning Beijing’s showpiece event — and notes on who’s still going.
Boycotting, and proud!
The Baltic country was among the first to decide in early December to diplomatically boycott the Olympics. “Foreign Minister [Gabrielius] Landsbergis will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics,” the ministry of foreign affairs said. Vilnius and Beijing have had a rocky relationship in recent months, triggered by Lithuania’s overtures toward self-ruling Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory.
The Biden administration announced on December 6 that it would not send an official U.S. delegation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki cited the “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang” as reasons for boycotting.
“Australian government officials will … not be going to China for those games. Australian athletes will, though,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, as his government decided to join the boycott on December 8.
On December 8, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that no ministers would attend due to alleged human rights abuses in China. “There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing,” he said.
Also on December 8, Canada announced its diplomatic boycott. “We will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games this winter,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canada’s decision should not “come as a surprise” to China, he added.
“The Federal Government does not intend to send any representation to the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. His administration adopted the stance on December 14, regardless of any eventual EU position.
Denmark will not send an official diplomatic delegation to Beijing either. “It is no secret that we from the Danish side are very concerned about the human rights situation in China,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on January 14.
Estonian President Alar Karis and his government officials will not travel to Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not know of any Estonian government members planning to participate in the Beijing Olympics,” the spokesperson said.
Not going … because of the pandemic (cough, cough)
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson declared on December 7 that New Zealand will not be sending any government officials to China. “There was a range of factors but mostly to do with COVID,” he said.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer spoke out in December against what he described as the “politicization of the games.” However, due to the coronavirus requirements in China, there will be no high-level politicians attending from Austria. “I prefer to meet personally with our athletes in Vienna,” Nehammer said.
On January 5, Slovenian President Borut Pahor announced that he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. He cited the current wave of coronavirus as his reason.
Sweden will not send any government representatives to the Beijing Winter Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s Sports Minister Anders Ygeman said on January 11. Yet, “this is not a diplomatic boycott,” Ygeman clarified.
The Netherlands will not send an official diplomatic delegation to the Olympics, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on January 14, citing COVID-19 restrictions. Due to the measures, the spokesperson said there would not be enough meaningful options to discuss “the Netherlands’ great concern about the human rights situation.”
Having it both ways
The Japanese government announced that Tokyo would not send top representatives to Beijing in part due to human rights concerns — but it would send Olympic officials, one of whom doubles as a parliamentary lawmaker, and stopped short of calling its position a diplomatic boycott.
Already booked flights to Beijing
Some Western governments aren’t so keen on staying home during the Olympics. On Tuesday, the Polish government announced President Andrzej Duda would attend, the most senior EU official to do so. He’ll join other European countries like France, Italy, Norway and Finland in flying to China. Other EU member countries that will have their diplomats attend include Latvia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Ireland and, last but not least, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Greece.
Still can’t decide, two weeks out
But not all countries are so eager to take a stance. Some still haven’t decided whether they will have diplomats traveling to Beijing, just two weeks out from the opening ceremony.
The German foreign ministry told POLITICO on Tuesday that it still holds the same position on the issue as it did on December 29: “We are currently coordinating a common line with our EU partners.”
Their colleagues in the Spanish foreign ministry have not made a decision yet either. “For the moment, there is no decision taken about the Spanish representation in that event,” the ministry said.