Australia has said it will join the US in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.
The decision, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was made in response to “human rights violations” in China’s Xinjiang province, as well as “many other issues that Australia has consistently raised.”
He added that athletes would still attend.
China has condemned the US announcement and threatened retaliation, but no further details have been provided.
The US announced on Monday that it would not send diplomats to the Games in Beijing due to concerns about China’s human rights record.
Mr Morrison said it was “no surprise” that Australia had joined the boycott, given the country’s deteriorating relations with China in recent years.
“I’m doing it because it’s in the best interests of Australia,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s the responsible thing to do.”
He accused China of passing up opportunities to improve relations, while insisting that Australia was still open to bilateral talks.
The Chinese embassy in Australia responded with the following statement: “The river cannot be stopped by mountains from flowing into the sea. The performance of Australian athletes, not the attendance of Australian officials or the political posturing of some Australian politicians, will determine Australia’s success at the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
It went on to say that the blame for the current state of relations between China and Australia “lies squarely on the Australian side.”
Meanwhile, at a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the United States of violating “political neutrality in sport,” and said the proposed boycott was “based on lies and rumours.”
Tensions between the two countries are high. The United States has accused China of genocide in its repression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in the western region of Xinjiang, which China strongly denies.
Relations are also strained due to China’s suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong, as well as concerns about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who has been missing for weeks after accusing a top government official of assault.
As a result of allegations that Beijing has interfered in Australian politics and society, Canberra has come to regard China as a security threat.
It has also expressed concern about two Australian citizens who are still detained in China.
Pro-democracy writer Yang Hengjun has denied charges of espionage and allegedly faced torture since his arrest in January 2019. Journalist Cheng Lei has been held without charge since August last year.
Other countries – including Canada and Japan – are also said to be considering diplomatic boycotts of the Games. New Zealand has confirmed it will not send officials due to Covid concerns.
The Australian Olympic Committee said it supported its government’s move but was keen to ensure safety for its approximately 40 athletes.