Canada joins allies in diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Canada has joined a growing list of Western countries refusing to send diplomats to cheer on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in what amounts to a repudiation of the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of minorities in Xinjiang and its crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada will be conducting a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games set for February in China’s capital. This means no government officials or diplomatic representatives will be present at the event, which runs February 4 to February 20.

“We are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations [of] the Chinese government,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters Wednesday. “That is why we are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games this winter.”

The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Lithuania have already announced their own diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics.

A diplomatic boycott doesn’t amount to a full boycott and Canadian athletes will still represent Canada at the 24th Olympic Winter Games. Canada’s flag will still be paraded around Beijing’s National Stadium at the opening ceremonies.

“Our athletes … will continue to have all of our fullest support as they show the extraordinary success that Canada has at Winter Games.”

It still amounts to a further deterioration of relations between the West and China, which only several months ago returned two Canadians held prisoner for more than 1,000 days in what Ottawa had described as “hostage diplomacy.”

Mr. Trudeau said he doesn’t think China will be surprised by Canada’s decision.

“The Chinese government is very much aware of the concerns that Canada and allies have had for years.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly was asked Wednesday how substantive a move this diplomatic boycott is when Canada normally only sends a few diplomatic representatives to such events.

She countered that she believed it nevertheless amounts to a “strong signal” to China.

Asked why Canada didn’t commit to a full boycott, Ms. Joly said it would be unfair to ask athletes to sacrifice all their hard work.

China has faced strong international criticism over its oppression of Uyghurs and other minorities – what several Western Parliaments including Canada have said amounts to genocide – but also because of Beijing’s crackdown on democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong. A new security law introduced in the midst of the pandemic in Hong Kong effectively criminalized opposition and dissent.

Its military provocation toward Taiwan and China’s recent testing of a hypersonic missile raised fears that the country could one day be capable of a surprise nuclear attack.

In recent years, Beijing has militarized the South China Sea and over the past few months has stepped up intimidating military sorties against Taiwan. On Oct. 1 and 2, Beijing sent a total of 80 military aircraft including fighter jets and bombers toward Taiwan, forcing the Taiwanese military to scramble fighters in response.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, has said a diplomatic boycott is the least Canada can do. He added that the West should have used the COVID-19 pandemic to campaign for a postponement of the Beijing Games, and then used the delay to press China over its crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. “Canada and the U.S. could have offered to jointly host the Winter Games,” he said.

China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, which produces a fifth of the world’s cotton, is where researchers and critics say the Chinese government has committed grave human-rights violations against the largely Muslim population of Uyghurs and other minorities. Allegations include mass incarceration, destruction of religious sites, forced labour, forced sterilization and other forms of population control, as well as torture. Forced labour, they say, is the latest stage in Beijing’s efforts to exert control in an area with a large population of Muslim people that Beijing has described as infected by extremism.