World Leaders Divided About Beijing Boycott

August 10, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

{xtypo_sticky} Some World Leaders Attending the Games

  • Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
  • King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni
  • Croatian President Stjepan Mesić
  • Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen
  • Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
  • Mauritian President Sir Anerood Jugnauth
  • Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Swiss President Pascal Couchepin
  • Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej
  • United States President George W. Bush
  • Vietnam President Nguyễn Minh Triết
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper both stayed away from the Olympic opening ceremony. (Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper both stayed away from the Olympic opening ceremony. (Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images)

About 80 world leaders are attending the Beijing Olympics—the most of any Olympic Games in history.

But many leaders refused the invitation to attend the opening ceremony, including United Nations Secretary General Pan Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Many leaders said they decided against attending the Beijing Olympics because of the Chinese Communist Regime’s crackdown persecution of the Tibetans.

US President George W. Bush said he would still attend the Games, because a boycott “would be an affront to the Chinese people.”

Treatise with Russia and Japan

Former Russian President Vladimir Putin debated whether he would attend the Games, even after recommendations from Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev that Putin should attend.

On July 21, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, said Putin would attend the Beijing Olympics.

The same day, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov signed a protocol on the eastern border between the two countries.

Chinese state media said the protocol “marked the completion of the China-Russia 4300km border survey,” but did not give further details.

Commentators said the deal meant China permanently signed away 100 square miles of land, an area 40 times the size of Taiwan.

In December 1999 in Beijing, China’s then president, Jiang Zemin, and Russia’s then president, Boris Yeltsin, signed the Narrative Protocol on Eastern and Western Sections of the China-Russia Boundary.

The protocol gave more than 620,000 square miles of land to Russia.

Jiang also agreed to give Russia the mouth of the Tumen River, cutting off northeast China from the Sea of Japan.

This protocol was not made known to Chinese people until years later when the Russians disclosed it. 

On June 18 of this year, China and Japan signed an agreement to develop the gas fields in the East China Sea.

Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda then announced he would attend the Beijing Olympics, making this the first time that a Japanese Prime Minister has attended the Olympics in two decades.

This East China Sea agreement covers an area long disputed by the two countries. Japan had asserted for many years that the gas fields known as Chunxiao should belong to them.

China had argued that according to the 1958 Geneva Convention, regarding continental shelves, its border extends as far as its underwater continental shelves, thus adding 81,000 square miles to China and giving them ownership of all gas fields in the region.

The agreement reached in July grants Japan access to all gas fields in the region.


After the crackdown on Tibetans in March, French President Nicholas Sarkozy said he would discuss a boycott of the Olympics with other French leaders.

China then encouraged its people to boycott the French company Carrefour, other French-made products and tried to ban travel agencies from booking tour groups to France.

Sarkozy sent representatives to China to revive relations and insisted that he would only attend the opening ceremony if Beijing held talks with the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese regime then held two envoys with the Dalai Lama.

Just days after the talks, Sarkozy announced he would attend the Olympics.

Some French people have criticized him for not maintaining his position on human rights.

Bush's Attendance

President George Bush decided to go to Beijing despite calls for a boycott from both the republican and democratic presidential candidates.

According to a finance expert and member of Hong Kong’s Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from Asia Weekly, Liu Monxiong, China made a mistake by pouring US$376.3 billion of its foreign exchange reserves into the United States' sub-prime mortgage.

Liu said China is the largest foreign creditor in the US sub-prime market, after investing an amount equal to 21 percent of its foreign exchange reserve into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Liu said it is scandalous that China would concentrate more than a fifth of its foreign exchange reserves in one place.

Analysts have suggested that Bush is seeking financial help from China as the US faces economic turmoil and that this has been used as a bargaining chip for Bush to attend the Olympics.

Others believe that Bush launched an attack on Iran before leaving office and wants China’s help.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first world leader to boycott the Games. German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German President Horst Köhler also decided to boycott the Games.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend due to a scheduling conflict, but sent his Foreign Affairs Minister. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk boycotted the opening ceremony because of China's crackdown in Tibet. 

China expert Zhang Haisan said that China exchanged commodities to get western leaders to attend the Games, which amounts to legitimizing its dictatorship.