BRUSSELS — Several European Union nations have made it clear they have little appetite to join the U.S. initiative for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games because of concerns over China’s human rights record.
EU foreign ministers were seeking a united front on how to handle the issue, following France’s position last week that a no-show of leaders and dignitaries at the opening of the Olympics would have little true impact.
“Politicizing sporting events like the Winter Olympics does not seem useful to me,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told ZDF broadcaster that as little as possible should be taken away from the participants themselves. “Athletes prepare for years, sometimes half their lives, for this, and that’s why it should not be used for political issues.”
China has dismissed the decision by Canada and the United Kingdom to join Washington’s diplomatic boycott as a “farce” and was not expecting the initiative to garner a worldwide following.
Even though the 27 EU nations will send individual teams and the bloc as such will not have its own athletes, the EU foreign ministers want to streamline their participating in the largely symbolic diplomatic dance preceding and at the Feb. 4 opening ceremony for the games.
A joint no-show of the 27 nations would add gravitas to U.S. President Joe Biden’s initiative, but the EU nations appear hesitant.
China has vowed to respond to the U.S. with “firm countermeasures” over the boycott, but has given no details on how it plans to retaliate.
Rights groups have called for a total boycott of the Beijing Winter Games, citing Chinese human rights abuses against its Uyghur minority in the northwest Xinjiang region, which some have called genocide. They also point to Beijing’s suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong and a sweeping crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.
Schallenberg said it was doubtful that such a diplomatic boycott would benefit the average Chinese much. “Let’s keep things in proportion.”
Baerbock insisted that China would still remain an important partner to solve global challenges like the climate crisis.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the problem was the EU nations that failed to launch a successful bid for the Winter Games.
Stockholm and Krakow, Poland, were two EU cities that withdrew bids, while Munich rejected it in a voter referendum. “So we also have to realize that it is indirectly our fault,” that the games went to Beijing instead.
Asselborn also backed the position of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said last Friday that “the pain such a boycott could inflict was questionable.”