Czech political leaders considering diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

Zhangjiakou Winter Olympic Village

A heated debate between EU foreign ministers is expected at the European Council meeting this Monday regarding the possible diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in China. Several leading constitutional officials in the Czech Republic have indicated that they are in favour of following the Anglo-Saxon world in diplomatically boycotting the Games. However, within the European Parliament, Czech MEP’s are divided on the issue.

Photo: N509FZ,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0

Next year’s Winter Olympic Games are set to take place in February in Beijing, China. It is the second time that the Chinese capital will host the Olympics. However, unlike 12 years ago, the country is now facing greater international scrutiny for its poor human rights record, which includes the severe persecution of its Uyghur minority that some parliaments in Western countries have described as genocide.

In reaction to such policies, the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia have announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, meaning that while their countries’ athletes will attend, government officials will not. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin accused these countries of using the Olympics platform for “political manipulation” and warned that they “will pay the price for their mistaken acts”.

Petr Fiala | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Several other countries are considering withdrawing their participation as well. This includes the Czech Republic. Prime Minister designate Petr Fiala said last week that he understands why the United States have chosen to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympic Games and that he expects his future government will decide collectively on whether to do so as well. The statement came after two members of his government coalition, including the nominee for Foreign Minister, Jan Lipavský of the Pirate Party, proposed that the Czech Republic abstain from the Games.

Lipavský’s fellow party member and Czech MEP Markéta Gregorová told Czech Radio that she would also be in favour of boycotting the Beijing Olympics.

Markéta Gregorová | Photo:  Czech Pirate Party/Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

“I think it would be appropriate for the Czech Republic to join this diplomatic boycott. The reasons are the same that the other boycotting countries have provided – breaking human rights laws.”

This view is also shared by the heads of both houses of Czech Parliament. Outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said that he understands why some countries have chosen to boycott the games. He said last week that the question will be on the table at this week’s European Council meeting and that the European Union should choose a common approach.

The leading voice in the union against a boycott is France, with its president, Emmanuel Macron, telling reporters that only a partial, diplomatic boycott would be ineffective.

Kateřina Konečná | Photo: Genevieve Engel,  European Parliament

Some Czech politicians also oppose the move. Among them is MEP and Communist Party Chairwoman Kateřina Konečná.

“I think that if there is anything that has a real chance to help strengthen the adherence to [international] law, discussion and debate, then it is precisely diplomacy in the areas of sport and culture. It is not boycotts, sanctions, intimidation or ultimatums.”

EU leaders are also set to debate the issue at their last summit of the year on Thursday. However, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Reuters that he is sceptical of a final decision being reached this week.

Authors: Tom McEnchroe , Karolina Koubová , Katka Brezovská
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