OTTAWA — Canada is joining the United States and other western countries in declaring a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that Canada will ban government officials from attending Beijing’s winter games, which begin in less than two months.
“We are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “I don’t think the decision by Canada or by many other countries to choose to not send diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics is going to come as a surprise to China. We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations.”
The step means Canadian diplomats, Cabinet ministers, the governor general and the prime minister himself won’t be making the trip to Beijing.
Canadian athletes, just like those from the U.S., will still be free to compete in the games despite the boycott.
The backdrop: The move by Canada follows the White House announcement Monday of a diplomatic boycott of the games, citing China’s human rights abuses.
Beijing has drawn international condemnation for its persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as well as its actions in Hong Kong and toward Taiwan. The Biden administration and Canada’s Parliament have declared abuses against the Uyghurs a genocide — a charge Beijing rejects.
Earlier Wednesday, the British and Australian governments announced their own diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics, which are set to begin Feb. 4 in the Chinese capital.
Canada’s move: The decision didn’t come as a surprise in Canada, especially after the U.S. announcement. Trudeau has said his government held conversations with like-minded countries for months about how to approach the Beijing Olympics.
Mélanie Joly, Trudeau’s foreign minister, said Wednesday that Canada is taking a leadership role in raising the Olympics issue with, for example, G-7 and NATO partners.
“We are coordinating with allies to continue to have more countries, to send a strong message,” Joly told the same press conference.
The move by Trudeau comes with Canada-China diplomatic relations already in a fragile state. However, the removal earlier this fall of a major bilateral sticking point has given the prime minister more latitude to criticize Beijing.
The bilateral relationship deteriorated rapidly after Canadian police arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on a United States warrant. Days later, Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians in retaliation and held them until Meng’s September release.
Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, said Tuesday that he wants Ottawa and Beijing to move past what he described today as the “Meng Wanzhou incident.”
But any warming of ties between the governments’ officials has barely begun, if at all.
U.S. take on a Canadian boycott: David Cohen, the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, told reporters Tuesday that he was pretty sure Trudeau would join the White House.
“I have a high level of confidence that Canada and the United States will be aligned on our China policy, including our policy with respect to the Olympics,” Cohen said when asked about the matter minutes after presenting his credentials to Governor General Mary Simon.
He said he’s hoping for more collaboration between Canada and the U.S. when it comes to China, particularly when it comes to defending human rights and the pursuit of a just society.
Beijing’s reaction: The Chinese government reacted earlier Wednesday to the Australian announcement by calling it a “political stunt.”
“We have reiterated many times that the winter Olympic games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, told a press conference, according to a Chinese government transcript.
Asked about the boycott Tuesday, Cong said sports should not be politicized and that it’s sad the U.S. is trying to turn the Olympics into a political issue.
“They are political games,” Cong told a virtual event hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “No one cares about whether their officials will be there or not, because no invitation is [being] sent to them.”
Pound’s perspective on boycotts: Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member, told POLITICO in a recent interview that diplomatic boycotts of the winter games are unlikely to make much of an impact in Beijing.
“That’s a way that governments can signal their disapproval of whatever the particular Chinese policies may be — whether it makes any difference to the Chinese is anybody’s guess. I would say, basically, no,” Pound, a Canadian and former vice-president of the IOC, said in an interview last Friday. “Kind of by default, everyone’s backing into a position that the athletes will go, the games will go on and the relationships with China will take their course.”