Beijing fears diplomatic isolation as US allies mull Olympics options: analysts

U.S. allies said they were considering their positions on Tuesday following yesterday's announcement that the Biden administration will boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, citing human rights "atrocities."

While U.S. athletes will compete, no government officials will go to the Chinese capital for Games, which run from Feb. 4-20.

Rights groups have opposed Beijing's hosting of the Games since its 2008 hosting of the Summer Olympics failed to have much impact on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s rights record, citing ongoing abuses of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers and domestic critics of the regime.

Australia said on Tuesday it has yet to make a decision on whether to send government officials to the event, while Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio said his government would make its own decision on the matter.

Officials in the Netherlands gave a similar message, saying the government would "talk to our European partners to see what we can do together."

However, the E.U.'s top diplomat Stefano Sannino has said Olympics boycotts are a matter for individual member states, not common EU foreign policy, to decide.

Canada's foreign ministry said it "remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China." Officials there said they would continue to discuss the matter with partners and allies.

New Zealand deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said Wellington wouldn't be sending any officials, but citing the pandemic rather than Beijing's rights abuses.

"The entire international community, represented by the United States, is keeping up its focus on human rights issues in Xinjiang, and its attitude towards China's holding of the Winter Olympics next year has undergone a fundamental shift," Chinese political commentator Wei Xin told RFA on Tuesday.

"The scandal of Peng Shuai being sexually assaulted by a very senior official was undoubtedly a huge catalyst," Wei said.

'Resolute countermeasures'

Wei said the threat from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian of "resolute countermeasures" against Washington could mean Beijing boycotts future Olympics held in other countries.

"It will further escalate and expand China's diplomatic resistance to the U.S. government, using symbolic diplomatic actions that are unlikely to cause economic losses for China," Wei said.

"It could lead to a form of diplomatic warfare ... I think this will cause irreversible damage to Chinese diplomatic interests," he said. "It could mean the international community isolates China diplomatically."

But Beijing-based commentator Zha Jianguo said there is actually little Beijing can do to retaliate.

"It won't have much of an impact on the hosting of the Winter Olympics per se, but it will have a hugely negative impact on China's status internationally, and on its people," Zha told RFA.

"But there are very few options for countermeasures."

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest, said if other Western leaders follow Biden's lead, "there's going end up being something like the authoritarian Olympics, where only leaders of authoritarian regimes end up going and sitting in the gallery where the whole world can watch them waving to the athletes."

Japanese invited to Xinjiang

Meanwhile, hundreds of Japanese nationals have signed up for a junket to Xinjiang run by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), state media reported.

The Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic tabloid with close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily, reported on Monday that 435 people had applied to go on a trip to Xinjiang, which was billed as offering "beautiful scenery," "delicious food," and "beauty."

It said media reporting, citing former inmates and official documents, of the CCP's mass incarceration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang was "slander and lies."

"The Consulate-General in Osaka is recruiting Japanese tourists to travel to Xinjiang next year," the paper said, although it added that some people are concerned that a trip to Xinjiang could be a "one-way trip," or that they could be monitored the whole time.

Prime minister Fumio Kishida recently said he was "deeply concerned" about human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where China is believed to have held around 1.8 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities since 2017 in what it calls "re-education" and "vocational training" facilities.

Xiang Lin, who was born in China, but who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years, said Beijing is also trying to entice Japanese people to visit Xinjiang in a bid to preempt such isolation.

"After the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Western countries completely froze diplomatic ties with the CCP," Xian told RFA. "Former vice premier Qian Qichen wrote in his memoirs that China used the visit of the Emperor of Japan to successfully break through that diplomatic isolation."

He said some Japanese leftists could be happy to take up the offer.

"They're not pro-China so much as pro-CCP," Xiang said. "They want to use this group of people to get [more Japanese] to Xinjiang."

"Given the CCP's capacity to mobilize, it's no problem for them to find 400 people ... who will then come back and say that everything in Xinjiang is just fine under the CCP," he said. "It's like using International Olympics Committee chairman Thomas Bach to say Peng Shuai is safe."

"It's pure farce."

He said social media comments had warned that anyone going on the trip would have their personal details taken and could be subject to surveillance on their return to Japan.

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