Australia refuses to sign ‘truce’ for Beijing Olympics as it weighs up diplomatic boycott

Australia has joined 19 other countries in opting not to sign a truce with China ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics amid growing pressure for a diplomatic boycott of the event.

The refusal to sign the Olympic Truce – a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece to ensure conflicts don’t disrupt the competition – was designed to send a message to Beijing over its human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the treatment of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

Australia is weighing up a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.Credit:AP

Since its revival in 1993, Israel and North Korea are usually the only countries not to sign the truce. But the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday passed the resolution without the support of 20 countries.

None of the “Quad” members – United States, India, Australia and Japan – sponsored the resolution, and New Zealand was the only country in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, comprising Australia, NZ, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US, to sign the truce.

As a majority Muslim country, Turkey’s decision not to co-sponsor the resolution has been noted given China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in the far-western province of Xinjiang.

The resolution called on all member states to “harness the power of sport to advance the world by fostering an atmosphere of peace, development, resilience, tolerance and understanding”.

Multiple Australian and US government sources, who are not authorised to speak publicly, confirmed the Biden administration was likely to announce some form of diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 as early as next week. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is weighing up a similar move.

A diplomatic boycott would involve not sending a delegation of officials to the Winter Olympics in February but allowing athletes to participate. It would be aimed at protesting against China’s human rights record across a number of fronts amid mounting concern for Ms Peng’s welfare.

The former doubles world No.1 went missing for weeks after accusing former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, before re-emerging in highly choreographed appearances.

Asked whether Australia would impose a diplomatic boycott, Mr Morrison said on Friday: “We’re considering those matters at the moment and working through those issues.”

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, on Friday offered to work with the government to reach an agreed national position.

“The case of Peng Shuai raises serious concerns about athlete safety,” she said. “In light of this and ongoing concerns about the human rights situation in China, Labor is willing to work with the government to agree a bipartisan, national position on the level of Australia’s diplomatic representation at the Winter Olympics.”

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said Labor’s offer was a key opportunity for Australia to become the first Western country to boycott the event.

“With the support of Labor, I again call on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sport to take the lead and engage in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics,” he said. “Australia has the opportunity to be a world leader and take a strong stand for human rights in light of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship’s litany of human rights abuses.

“From the Uighurs, organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, slave labour, the Hong Kongers, the Tibetans, the Mongolians, the Dalai Lama, debt-trap diplomacy, the South China Sea Islands, religious and journalistic persecution, the list goes on and on.”

The federal government will also face pressure to sanction four Chinese officials over the management of detention camps in Xinjiang after this week adopting a new sanctions regime partly based on the US’s Magnitsky Act. Canada, the US, the European Union and Britain used their Magnitsky-style laws earlier this year to sanction four Chinese officials over human rights breaches against Uighurs.

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken commended the Australian Parliament for passing the laws, saying it would “enhance US-Australia co-operation on defending human rights and combatting corruption”.

The Olympic Truce was established in the 9th century BC, with the signing of a treaty to allow athletes and spectators from the three Greek city-states, which were at war with each other, to safely attend the events. Since 1993, the UN General Assembly has expressed its support for the truce before each Olympics and Winter Olympics.

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