Scott Morrison has broken his silence amid mounting pressure on Australian officials to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in order to “take a stand” for human rights.
The Women’s Tennis Association announced all tournaments in China would be suspended in light of concerns about the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Ms Peng’s safety became a concern when she disappeared on November 2 after posting a message on social media alleging that China’s former vice-premier had sexually assaulted her.
Her post was removed within minutes, and the tennis champ stopped appearing in public.
Ms Peng reappeared in Beijing on November 21 and held a video call with the International Olympic Committee, but the WTA and EU said this did not mitigate concerns about her health and safety.
Australian politicians on both sides have called for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing in light of the scandal, with Liberal senator Eric Abetz pushing for Australia to “take the lead” against China’s suspicious treatment of their citizens.
The Prime Minister addressed the boycott demands on Friday, stating his government will be “considering” taking action against China.
“There has been discussion over the last couple of weeks about China and the sporting arena and Peng Shuai and her safety … Will Australia join a boycott?” a reporter asked Mr Morrison.
“We will be considering that,” he replied.
Senator Abetz, who is the chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, said Australia should become the first Western country to take a strong position that could be followed by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The boycott would not extend to athletes.
Senator Abetz’s calls have been welcomed by the opposition, who said there were “serious” concerns about Ms Peng’s safety.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong told The Australian that the opposition would work with the Morrison government to come to an agreed national position.
“This case raises serious concerns about athlete safety. In light of this, and ongoing concerns about the human rights situation in China, Labor is willing to work with the government to agree a bipartisan, national position on the level of Australia’s diplomatic representation at the Winter Olympics,” Senator Wong told The Australian.
The proposition was raised in the government party room meeting on Tuesday, almost a year after Senator Abetz first called for the boycott.
“Australia has the opportunity to be a world leader and take a strong stand for human rights in light of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship’s litany of human rights abuses,” he said.
“From the Uyghurs, organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, slave labour, the Hong Kongers, the Tibetans, the Mongolians, the Dalai Lama, debt trap diplomacy, the South China Sea Islands, religious and journalistic persecution, the list goes on and on.
“The recent disappearance and then staged reappearance of Peng Shuai adds to the ever-growing list of gross injustices committed by the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship, and it calls in question players’ safety as they compete in Beijing.”
Senator Abetz said if the 2008 Games were anything to go by, the 2022 iteration would feature “propaganda, press crackdown and increased repression”.
“The Winter Games will be used for domestic propaganda to fuel aggressive nationalism, the likes which encourages the CCP dictatorship to take over the South China Sea and then threaten to forcibly ‘reunify’ with Taiwan,” he said.
“As little engagement nations have with the Beijing Winter Olympics, the better.”
Labor president and former MP Wayne Swan has cautioned against the boycott, however.
He told the Today program that Australia needed to be consistent through government and non-government organisations in calling out human rights abuses.
“I don’t think we should necessarily be sitting it in the context of athletic participation in the Olympics, for example,” he said.
“We should be calling out the human rights abuses in China which are truly dreadful, and one way of doing it is highlighting what has happened in tennis.
“Sport is one way to do that, although I would recall that in 1980 there was a call for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
“That didn’t end well and it didn’t work.”
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said he didn’t want a diplomatic boycott, but ultimately it was a decision for the government.
“(I) note in our case, there is still much to observe and learn looking ahead to Brisbane 2032, and our (sports) Minister sits on the World Anti-Doping Agency board as a government representative,” Mr Coates said.