If the U.S. government implements a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics to protest China’s human rights abuses, Canada should do the same, say former diplomats and experts.
“I think at this late stage it’s probably the best thing to do, ”said Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s Ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.
A diplomatic boycott would involve a country refusing to send a political contingent to the Winter Games – which are set to begin in February – while allowing its athletes to continue participating.
“You have to think about the athletes and all the years of training they’ve put in,” said Saint-Jacques. “At a minimum, under these circumstances, there should be no official delegation going to the opening ceremony in Beijing.”
“I think it’s important because every time you capitulate and say ‘Well that won’t change a thing’ China is very happy with it because they say ‘Our strategy is working and nobody dares us. criticize.'”
In a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office Thursday, US President Joe Biden, when questioned by reporters, said a diplomatic boycott was “something we are considering”.
Biden’s question and response followed recent media reports that the United States may soon announce such a measure. This week the Washington Post reported the White House is expected to announce that neither Biden nor any other U.S. government official will attend the Beijing Games.
Later, at a late-night press conference in Washington, Trudeau did not say whether Canada would also consider a diplomatic boycott of the Games.
“We have engaged with like-minded partners around the world over the past few months on this issue,” he said.
“We continue to have these discussions and, as the Games approach, I am sure there will be more information on the exact position Canada and indeed the world will take on this issue.”
China accused of genocide
Human rights activists say China’s oppression of political critics, as well as minority groups such as Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uyghurs and a crackdown in Hong Kong, should prompt athletes and politicians to avoid Games. The Canadian House of Commons, the former Trump administration and activists have also accused China of committing genocide against the Uyghurs.
The Chinese government has denied accusations of human rights violations.
Meanwhile, a number of senior U.S. politicians have called for a diplomatic boycott, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“Banning our athletes from competing in China is the easy answer, but the wrong answer,” Romney wrote in an editorial in the New York Times in March. “Our athletes have trained their entire lives for this competition and prepared their abilities to peak in 2022.”
“Rather than sending the traditional delegation of diplomats and White House officials to Beijing, the president should invite Chinese dissidents, religious leaders and ethnic minorities to represent us.”
In a statement to CBC News, David Shoemaker, CEO and Secretary General of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said members understand and respect that governments will do what they believe is right to make statements or bring about change, including a diplomatic boycott of major events.
“The decision to attend or not for Canadian government officials is up to them,” he said.
Implementing such a boycott will make no difference to China if only one or two countries are involved, said Dick Pound, Canadian lawyer and member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“You have to develop some sort of consensus between Europeans and North Americans and whatever, ”he said. “And at some point even the Chinese have to be careful. But if it’s just Canada or just the United States, they don’t care. “
Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said the organization called for a postponement and relocation of the Olympics. A diplomatic boycott is the minimum Canadian government officials could do, he said.
“It’s not enough, but at least it’s important to send a signal to the Chinese government that we are not part of the genocide Olympics – that’s what I call it,” he said. he declares.
“Our politicians shouldn’t be going and our government officials shouldn’t be going. It’s a step in forcing China to change in the right direction.”
But such action could have some impact, said Angela Schneider, director of the International Center for Olympic Studies at Western University.
“The Chinese administration cares,” she said. “They are very interested in the presence of diplomatic entourage. And I think that is a strong statement
“I don’t know if this will change specific policies, but it’s also not a full-fledged boycott. Absolutely not. And a full-fledged boycott will hurt our own athletes. So I would say, let’s make a statement that don’t hurt our own people.
Mac Ross, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Western University in London, Ont. who wrote on the matter, said a diplomatic boycott would send a message not only to China but to the IOC on how they select host countries and what is “the line in the sand in terms of human rights violations “.
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Ross said there should be an attempt to take some of the prestige away from the Games, even if it is by not sending diplomatic representation.
“Increase the pressure”
“I think it’s always important to make sure that (…) people around the world take note and ask questions about, well, why is the diplomatic boycott happening,” he said. he declares.
“I don’t know why it takes the Canadian government so long to say something meaningful about the Olympics.
“It’s really frustrating for someone who watches everyday waiting for some sort of announcement.”