Australia and Britain will not send government officials to next year's Beijing Olympics, the two country's prime ministers said Wednesday, joining the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney he decided to bar officials from attending as his government has been rebuffed in its attempts to discuss with China its alleged human rights abuses in its far-western Xinjiang region, as well as various other issues of concern.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said later Wednesday his government is not sending ministers or other representatives to the Beijing Olympics, telling parliament his government plans an effective diplomatic boycott.
"We have been very pleased and very happy to talk to the Chinese government about these issues and there's been no obstacle to that occurring on our side," Morrison said.
"But the Chinese government has consistently not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues. So it is not surprising, therefore, that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those games," he said, adding the decision would not bar athletes from attending the Winter Games.
"I very much separate the issues of sport and these other political issues," he said.
Johnson, while also ruling out an athletes' boycott, said, "There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. No ministers are expected to attend and no officials."
Relations between China and Australia have been strained in recent times by trade and other tensions including Canberra's early calls for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19-causing coronavirus.
Beijing has enacted a freeze on all ministerial-level meetings between the two countries and imposed tariffs on Australian exports such as coal, beef and wine.
When questioned over the potential for political or economic retaliation from China over the boycott, Morrison said it would be "completely and utterly unacceptable, and there would be no grounds for that whatsoever."
The Australian Olympic Committee said it welcomes the government's announcement that athletes will be permitted to compete at the Beijing Olympics, noting that no Australian athletes have expressed intentions to withdraw.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll added that a delegation from the 2032 Brisbane Summer Olympics organizers would also attend.
In responding to Canberra's decision, China's embassy in Australia said the blame for the current status of bilateral relations lies squarely on the Australian side.
"The Australian side's statement that it will not send officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics runs counter to its publicly pronounced expectation to improve China-Australia relations," the embassy said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing later Wednesday that the ministry has already lodged a protest with Australia over the diplomatic boycott.
China "expresses strong dissatisfaction with and firm opposition to" Australia's decision, Wang said, lambasting Canberra for having "blindly" followed Washington.
While indicating the Communist government will take retaliatory steps against Australia, Wang added a "simple, safe and exciting" global sporting event will be "successfully presented to the world as scheduled" from China's capital.
On Monday, the administration of President Joe Biden said the United States would not send diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics, which are set to open on Feb. 4, 2022.
Beijing immediately responded, criticizing the United States for using the Olympics as a stage for political shows and manipulation.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he would make a decision on the matter in consideration of his nation's national interests and the significance of the event.
New Zealand on Tuesday also said it would not send diplomatic representatives to the Olympic Games, citing a range of issues but mostly to do with concerns over the further spread of the coronavirus.