Eyes on China: How will Beijing take Australia's Winter Olympics cold shoulder?

Diplomatic boycott puts pressure on already strained relations

Eyes on China: How will Beijing take Australia's Winter Olympics cold shoulder?
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'Come and enjoy the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 – or else!'

This was the implied message sent out by the Communist Party of China to all the nations threatening to boycott the Olympics in protest against China’s extensive human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that Australian athletes would still be competing, but that there would be no diplomatic representatives or officials sent. The move brings Australia in line with America’s protest against the emerging superpower.

The official line from Scott Morrison is that the boycott is a response to human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province and ‘many other issues’.

I'm doing it because it's in Australia's national interest,” said Morrison. “It's the right thing to do.”

The reply from the Chinese embassy in Australia was suitably odd.

Mountains cannot stop the river from flowing into the sea. Australia's success at the Beijing Winter Olympics depends on the performance of Australian athletes, not on the attendance of Australian officials, and the political posturing by some Australian politicians.”

China’s human rights record has never been clean.

The last decade has been dominated by exposés regarding ethnic concentration camps and re-education prisons built in ‘autonomous’ regions to force the indigenous people to adopt Chinese culture. Disturbing reports persist that a live-organ trade is being run out of these camps, where China is allegedly using their ethnic prisoners as animals in an organ farm. Even ‘free citizens’ in Tibet and Xinjiang are kept as virtual prisoners by advanced surveillance networks, while the wider Chinese population is stopped from questioning their government by the social credit system.

Oddly, this is not ultimately why nations are boycotting Beijing.

In early November, tennis star and three-time Olympian Peng Shuai joined the social media #metoo movement by accusing Zhang Gaoli, the former Chinese vice premier, of sexual assault.

Her fame and position on the world sports stage offered no protection. The accusatory post was immediately deleted and then Peng vanished.

This began a bizarre ‘proof of life’ propaganda campaign with the world’s media where China drip-fed information that Peng was ‘fine and happy’ and would ‘show up in public soon’. The Communist Party is used to vanishing people without complaint in China, but the rest of the world refused to buy the official line about Peng’s sudden disappearance.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) moved to suspend all tournaments in China in retaliation to one of their registered stars going missing. WTA chairman Steve Simon promised he would make good on his threat to remove China entirely from the tennis season if Peng’s wellbeing wasn’t resolved in a satisfactory manner.

The International Olympic Committee has said that it spoke with Peng, confirming that she is ‘free and not in danger’ – a statement that few in the sporting community believe, given the circumstances.

The Olympics is all about global prestige. For a country like China that is ultra-sensitive about criticism, boycotts cause a massive headache for the authoritarian government.

How does the Communist Party explain to the Chinese people why the world doesn’t want to come to their Olympic games?

One doubts the explanation will involve an apology for state-sanctioned human rights abuses.

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