Written by By Elizabeth Stuart, CNN
Another country has joined the US and several other nations in boycotting next year’s Beijing Olympics over China’s policies in Tibet and Hong Kong.
Australia on Wednesday became the 15th country in the Asia-Pacific region, and the third Western nation, to back away from China’s largest sports event after two decades. The decision was announced in Canberra by the government, which held discussions with representatives of the world’s largest sportswear brands to encourage them to stay away from the Beijing Games in August.
“The impact of these boycotts on sport and community cohesion is considerable,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement.
Australia joins the US, South Korea and scores of other nations in boycotting the 2016 Olympics in China in protest of Beijing’s human rights record and hostility toward Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the boycott had no impact on the success of the Games.
“The Olympics are a dream for all people, this is exactly the Olympics that the world has been dreaming about. This is also the Olympic Games that win the hearts of the world. So in other words, the boycott is useless,” Lu said at a daily news briefing.
Australia joined two other Asian nations in picking the Olympics over a forthcoming meeting between China and Japan, a country with which it has long-simmering tensions. South Korea earlier announced it would be boycotting the East Asian Games in China in August, citing “China’s actions and deeds” in Hong Kong and Tibet.
The Australia and South Korea decisions come ahead of a visit to Australia by US President Donald Trump this week for the annual Group of 20 summit of the world’s 20 largest economies in Sydney.
Australia’s independent parliamentary commissioner for human rights, Richard Murray, has said the bilateral meeting would likely fail to address human rights because Beijing would not cooperate.
Sydney meeting on hold
The visit to Australia by Trump, along with that of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was canceled in protest over the decision to hold the East Asian Games in China.
“China’s acts, remarks and actions have shifted from human rights back into sovereignty,” Ben Barres, the deputy director of the Human Rights Foundation of Japan, told CNN.
“Australia may not be going to be issuing invitations to the East Asian Games, but they could and would and they would (still) refuse to have high-level political relations with China.”
“Japanese citizens and Japanese companies are being targeted by cyberattacks and increasing harassment,” he added.
Japan has been far more emphatic about its concerns than Australia in criticizing China’s actions in Hong Kong and Tibet. Japan has sought to increase its diplomatic relations with Hong Kong, particularly in recent years.
At the East Asian Summit in Beijing last year, in response to China’s move to cede part of Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone off its western coast in exchange for setting up a communications channel with Taiwan, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “While we work hard for improved relations between Japan and China, we must not neglect the complicated and delicate situation in Hong Kong.”
China’s Communist Party-ruled Taiwan is currently engaged in high-stakes negotiations over its future, and Tokyo is understood to be watching with mounting concern.
In 2013, while serving as prime minister, Abe visited China’s landmark Tienanmen Square, apparently a rare stop for an official leader from the island.
Vietnam, Japan and Korea — the latter being the only three Asian nations among the 12 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to have no trade ties with China — have pledged to boycott the Olympics. South Korea has also previously described China’s perceived encroachment in its region as a security issue.