German foreign, sports ministers won’t travel to China for Winter Olympics

The EU has so far failed to reach a consensus on a boycott, or not, of the Winter Olympics. Photo: Yuangeng Zhang, Shutterstock

BERLIN, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Germany’s ministers for foreign affairs and sports will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, spokespeople said on Wednesday, as Berlin liaises with its European allies on an overall diplomatic boycott.

A foreign ministry spokesperson quoted Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock as saying that she was a big sports fan but that she would definitely not visit China for the Olympics during that time.

An interior and sports ministry spokesperson said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser had decided personally that she would not attend the Olympics, partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A government spokesperson said Chancellor Olaf Scholz had not decided yet whether he would travel to China for the event, adding that Berlin was still discussing the matter with its European Union allies.

Japan said last week that it would not send a government delegation to the Olympics, a move likely to deepen its own tensions with China.

The decision follows a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the Games on concerns about human rights in China, although Japan has avoided explicitly labelling its move as such.

Meanwhile, a common European approach to boycotting the games has been hard to come by. Lithuania was the first country in the world to announce a diplomatic boycott back at the start of December.

The two countries have been embroiled in a diplomatic spat over Vilnus’ decision to open a Taiwanese representative office in the country using the name Taiwan, instead of Chinese Taipei. This intensified when China stopped allowing Lithuanian products to be imported.

China stops Lithuanian goods at customs, Commission ‘collects information’

China has banned Lithuanian products from entering the Chinese market amid growing tensions, according to Lithuanian media on Thursday (2 December). The European Commission said it is still gathering information and will return to the matter later.

On 18 December, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to parliament that the federal government would not be sending representatives to the games.

In France, the government has sent somewhat mixed signals with the ministry of education, youth, and sports hinting they would send delegates, while the foreign minister said a “common position” amongst EU member states is favoured.

In early Dember, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there “will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing”, adding that no senior officials would attend.

With the games starting in just over a month, a consensus reached at an EU level seems less and less likely.

Human rights violations that have caused much of the disquiet include the plight of the Uyghur minority which human rights groups claim have been imprisoned en masse by Beijing in so-called “re-education camps”. Reports of slave labour, forced sterilisation, torture and genocide have been made from organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

China denies all allegations and claims the camps are there to combat Islamist militancy and sepratism.

The EU must act now to stop abuses against Uyghur people

The European Commission’s proposed mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence laws and a forced labour ban are two powerful instruments that need to be executed effectively to successfully address Uyghur forced labour, write Koen Stoop and Helene de Rengerve.



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