BoJo: UK honchos a no-go to Beijing Olympics

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics picked up speed overnight as three US allies joined Joe Biden. Boris Johnson became the latest to join, announcing a few minutes ago that the UK would not send any ministers to the Olympiad in protest of China’s genocidal policies. That would be “effectively” the same as the US diplomatic boycott, Johnson said:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says no U.K. government minister will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, calling it “effectively” a diplomatic boycott.

Johnson was asked in the House of Commons whether the U.K. will join the United States, Australia and Lithuania in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games.

He said he opposed boycotts involving athletes but that Britain would effectively be boycotting the Olympics diplomatically.

Shades of 1980? When the US pulled out of the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, almost the entire West followed suit. (And let’s not forget that it turned out to be entirely impotent too, as the Soviets remained in Afghanistan for another eight years.) This protest is on a smaller scale, but that may make it more palatable. Thus far four nations have decided not to send any official delegations, including Lithuania and Australia.

Did that get under Beijing’s skin? Just a wee bit, yeah:

Australia will join the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights concerns, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday.

As it did following the U.S. announcement on Tuesday, China responded furiously, saying no Australian officials had been invited to the Olympics and “no one would care about whether they come or not.” …

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denounced Morrison’s announcement as “political posturing,” but did not directly threaten the “resolute countermeasures” China vowed to exact on the U.S.

“China has not invited any Australian government officials to attend the Winter Olympics, and no one would care about whether they come or not,” Wang said at a daily briefing. “The Australian politicians’ political posturing and hyping for their own political interest have no impact whatsoever on the successful Beijing Olympic Games.”

Referring to the U.S., Wang said Australia was “blindly following certain countries in their steps to confuse right and wrong without a bottom line.”

One has to wonder whether Australia would have sent an official delegation anyway. Their relationship with China has soured as Xi Jinping has sought cultural and military supremacy in the region. Even without US action, Morrison probably dreaded the idea of contributing to Xi’s propaganda efforts. Biden’s decision gave Morrison enough cover to call it off, but perhaps Morrison might have acted alone even without the US taking the lead.

China’s responses have pinballed between threats of revenge and measured indifference. The effect has been schizophrenic:

The U.S. is attempting to interfere with the Beijing Games “out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.

The boycott “seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto ‘more united,’” Zhao said.

As he did the previous day, Zhao vowed that China would respond with “resolute countermeasures” but offered no details. “The U.S. will pay a price for its practices. You may stay tuned for follow-ups,” Zhao said.

Zhao warned the U.S. to “stop politicizing sports” and cease what he said were actions undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, “otherwise it will undermine the dialogue and cooperation between the two countries in a series of important areas and international issues.”

China’s Washington embassy acted as if it mattered not at all, however:

The Chinese Embassy in Washington dismissed the move as posturing in a tweet.

“In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held,” the embassy said.

Which is it — an act that requires dire “countermeasures,” or a nothingburger? Perhaps China should ask itself that question before attempting a response. As for “politicizing sports,” every host country since Berlin 1936 has been guilty of that offense, China more than most. If Xi couldn’t politicize the Olympics for his propaganda ends, he’d never have spent money on it at all.

So what will the “resolute countermeasures” be? Probably nothing more than an eventual diplomatic boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics — in 2028. Even that seems only likely if Biden is still president at that time, and … that doesn’t seem likely at all. The more countries that join the diplomatic boycott, the tougher it will be for China to do much about it, except seethe.