Following the U.S.' move to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by not sending their government officials, with Australia, the UK and Canada following suit, China warned that they would "pay the price" for this move.
Athletes from these countries will still be attending the sporting event.
The reason they cited for this U.S.-led decision stemmed from what they saw as widespread human rights abuse of Muslim Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang by the local authorities.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Dec. 7 that these countries "use of the Olympic platform for political manipulation is unpopular and self-isolating, and they will inevitably pay the price for their wrongdoing", AFP reported.
All four countries which announced their diplomatic boycott of the Games have had fraught relations with China so far, with relations steadily in decline.
New Zealand will not be sending their officials to the Games as well, citing reasons that have "mostly to do with Covid".
China says nobody cares whether they come or not
Previously, Chinese diplomatic officials hit back at the diplomatic boycott.
Liu Xiaoming, former Chinese ambassador to the UK for more than 10 years, said that the U.S. wasn't even invited to the games.
The Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation. US politicians keep hyping a “diplomatic boycott” without even being invited to the Games. This wishful thinking and pure grandstanding is aimed at political manipulation.— 刘晓明Liu Xiaoming (@AmbLiuXiaoMing) December 6, 2021
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying took to Twitter as well to say the U.S. is "picking on the host" if it boycotts a party which is "by invitation only", suggesting that they were not invited.
If a man without an invitation declares to boycott a party which is "by invitation only", he's doing what we Chinese call "peng ci" or picking on the host. pic.twitter.com/3u8kF2aJwV— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) December 8, 2021
Wang, while condemning Australia's move to follow suit after the U.S. announced its boycott, also said at a press conference on Dec. 8 that whether Australian politicians come or not, "nobody cares", AFP reported.
He further said Australia's public stunt that was borne out of "selfish political interests" will have no impact on Beijing's success in hosting the Winter Olympics.
However, China's assertion that the U.S. wasn't invited in the first place appears to contradict official Olympic rules.
Although the International Olympic Committee is the authority that issues invitations to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to take part in the Games, it is the NOC of each country that invites political representatives to accompany their athletes to the event.
So to say that the U.S. wasn't invited appears to suggest that the U.S. Olympic Committee did not invite President Joe Biden or any of his officials to the Games.
China blocks news of the boycott
Mentions of the boycott have been blocked online in China, with the search topic "U.S. diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics" being censored as of Dec. 7, according to the BBC.
Of the comments that remained, most were disparaging of the U.S. for what they thought was "unsportsmanlike" behaviour.
Some also thought the diplomatic boycott was desultory in the U.S.' attempt to "bully" China, and that they should have "gone all the way" and withdrawn their athletes as well.
China indeed does care
The shift in China's tone, from saying that they don't care if these officials attend the event or not, to threatening retaliation, could possibly be explained by the need for China to give a firm stance on the issue.
This is in case they were seen as being "weak" in the face of foreign intimidation.
A China researcher at Human Rights Watch, Yaqiu Wang, also told The Washington Post that China's response actually shows that they care about their image.
While they might try to save face with their remarks and threats of countermeasures, "deep down, [China] knows that the international community is upset with its actions and is increasingly willing to act on the discontent," she said.
Much like how the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing marked China's big moment on the international stage, the upcoming Winter Games will be another marker of the country's emergence as a global power, and China is most likely concerned about any mishaps while hosting the Games.
Natasha Kassam, a former Australian diplomat in Beijing, also said that Beijing cares about "potential embarrassment around the Olympics, both internationally and domestically".
She further added that the dominance of Western liberal democracies in winter sports means it's more difficult for Beijing to redirect attention away from news of the boycott by using shows of support from countries in the global south.
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Top image via Kevin Frayer/Getty Images