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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will not send an official delegation to February's Winter Olympics in Beijing, though Canadian athletes will still compete. The announcement follows a similar move by the U.S., with Trudeau citing concerns about China's human rights record.

The Canadian Press

Canada has joined a growing list of Western countries refusing to send diplomats to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in a repudiation of the Chinese Communist Party’s human-rights abuses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday that no government officials or diplomatic representatives will be present in Beijing at the Winter Games in February or the Paralympics in March.

“We are extremely concerned by the repeated human-rights violations by the Chinese government,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The United States, Britain, Australia and Lithuania have already announced their own diplomatic boycotts in response to China’s repressive treatment of minorities in Xinjiang and its crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong. New Zealand is not sending diplomats but blamed COVID-19.

The measure is another sign of the 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 described as hostage diplomacy.

Why Canada and the EU should join the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games

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.”

Despite the diplomatic boycott, Canada’s athletes will still represent the country at the Games.

The Chinese embassy to Canada said in a statement that the diplomatic boycott “gravely violates the principle of political neutrality enshrined in the Olympic Charter” and “is a typical politicization of sports,” adding that Canadian diplomats were not even invited to attend. The statement pointed out Canada’s alleged genocide against Indigenous peoples and said therefore this country is “in no position to judge China” on its human-rights record.

Canada announced the boycott one day before U.S. President Joe Biden hosts a virtual summit on democracy, to which he has invited Taiwan but not China.

Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center, a non-partisan think tank, said a diplomatic boycott is bad for China but a full boycott of athletes would be far worse.

She said Beijing regards the boycott, along with Mr. Biden’s Summit for Democracy, as threats. “The Chinese see it as a U.S. attempt to build an anti-China coalition – and it is working.”

Ms. Sun predicted this will lead to further polarization.

Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, said she feels the Western diplomatic boycott is as much aimed at the International Olympic Committee over its effort to play down Beijing’s removal of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai from public life. Ms. Peng alleged on the Chinese social-media site Weibo in early November that a high-ranking official sexually assaulted her and then she disappeared from public view.

“What has transpired over the past month suggests the IOC is complicit in Beijing’s behaviour and doesn’t really care about human rights,” Prof. Ong said.

The U.S. and China are engaged in a significant military and space technology race. Last month, a senior U.S. general told the Halifax International Security Forum that China and Russia have surpassed the United States in the development of cutting-edge hypersonic missiles – regarded by some as first-strike weapons.

General David Thompson, vice-chief of space operations in the U.S. Space Force, said the world has become a “much more complicated place” with the advent of hypersonic missiles that can fly five times faster than the speed of sound and change course midflight. He also warned that Beijing is on track to one day overtake the Americans in space technology,

Prof. Ong said 2021 represents “just the beginning of a widening gap to come in terms of values and in terms of strategic competition between the United States and China.”

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

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

The Department of Global Affairs declined to answer a question on how many diplomats Canada has sent to recent Olympic Games and instead redirected it to the Department of Canadian Heritage, which was not able to immediately provide a response.

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 in the Xianjiang region – what several Western parliaments including Canada’s have said amounts to genocide – but also over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong. A new security law introduced in the midst of the pandemic in the former British colony effectively criminalized opposition and dissent.

China’s increasing military provocation toward Taiwan has drawn heavy criticism in 2021 not only from the West but also Japan.

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

Beijing’s authoritarian government considers Taiwan a breakaway province, even though the Chinese Communist Party, which seized power in China more than 70 years ago, has never ruled the island. China’s leadership has not disavowed using force to take control of Taiwan, which peacefully transitioned to democracy from martial law in the late 20th century.

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, which Beijing has described as infected by extremism.

Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who represents British Columbia, said he thinks the tradition of sending diplomats to Olympics should be abolished all together.

“I am in favour of keeping politics out of sporting events. The idea of a ‘diplomatic’ presence at sporting events always struck me as contrary to IOC ideals in the first place. I hope the absence of political figures at these events becomes the norm rather than the exception.”

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