The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games promises to be very fragmented

The accounts will be made on Friday, February 4 at 1:00 p.m., since it will be the the official opening of the Games. But at this point only Washington and its Anglo-Saxon allies have opted for this diplomatic boycott formula. Remember that this is not a sports boycott, like during the Moscow Games in 1980. This time the athletes are all allowed to move. On the other hand, it implies the absence of any official political representative.

The United States thus intends to protest against the Chinese repression against the Muslim minority of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. And obviously it’s one more episode in cold war climate between Washington and Beijing. Following the US announcement in early December, the UK, Canada and Australia adopted the same position: no official delegation, no minister, and less a head of government. This is also part of a global picture of very tense diplomatic relations between these countries and China. And finally the list stops there, of the capitals that assume an official diplomatic boycott on the issue of the Uyghurs.

On the contrary, there are those who will be there and there. At the top of the list, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president together with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will undoubtedly be one of the striking images of the opening ceremony. Especially since Russian leaders are theoretically banned from participating in Olympic competitions, following the discovery of a widespread doping system in the country. Only a few Russian athletes can compete under a neutral flag.

But in this case, Vladimir Putin has a derogation as he was officially invited by his Chinese counterpart. The opening ceremony next Friday will even be preceded by a China-Russia summit in Beijing. Quite a symbol, in the midst of a crisis between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

Apart from Putin, a good twenty heads of state and government are expected. the list is out this morning in the official Chinese press. Mainly there are authoritarian leaders like the Egyptian Sissi, the Saudi MBS or the Kazakh Tokaiev. And also several leaders from Asia or the Middle East: the King of Cambodia, the President of Singapore or the Prime Minister of Pakistan. This last country constitutes a main axis of the Chinese strategy of the “New Silk Roads”. Let us add the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Gutteres, also announced, and two European presidents, again authoritarian figures, the Pole Duda and the Serbian Vucic.

And then there is the third and last scenario, all the countries “in the middle”: neither presence nor official boycott, it is in the end the majority. There are those who will boycott but without saying the word boycott, for example Japan or the Netherlands. And then all those who are going to do the minimum service. For example, France, which plans to send only Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, and probably not yet to the opening and closing ceremonies.

In fact, many diplomats consider this type of boycott unproductive and point out that won’t change China’s attitude against the Uyghurs. It should also be noted in passing that the 27 members of the European Union have failed to adopt a common position on the issue.

Alex Hodgson

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