‘This Is Childish’: Australian Senator on Beijing’s Put-Down of Olympic Boycotts

By Rita Li
Rita Li
Rita Li
Rita Li is a reporter with The Epoch Times, focusing on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2018.
December 9, 2021 Updated: December 9, 2021

An Australian senator is pushing back on Beijing’s claim that it doesn’t care whether foreign representatives attend its upcoming Winter Olympic Games while denying concerns about its human rights records.

Countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom are to stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which starts in less than 60 days, which means governments will not send representatives at a ministerial level to Beijing.

“I would ask all leaders of countries that are not competing to not go to the Olympics, any tourists that were thinking of watching the Olympics, please don’t go,” Sen. Eric Abetz, who chairs the foreign affairs, defense, and trade committee in the Parliament of Australia, told The Epoch Times on Dec. 6.

“Say to the dictatorship: ‘We know what you’re up to, and we do not respect [it],’” the senator, known for his conservative politics, said. Abetz was referring to “deeply ingrained” human rights violations happening at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Earlier this week, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused Washington of “hyping up a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited.” He stressed that Beijing reserves the right to decide who it invites.

“No one would care whether these people come or not,” Zhao said, after being asked on Dec. 6 about a potential Olympic boycott by the Morrison government of Australia.

The remarks “astounded” Abetz, which he said were “childish” and “would defy any common-sense analysis.”

“There is no doubt that the dictatorship wanted to be the center of world attention,” he said.

“It’s like somebody saying, ‘I’m not going to come to your birthday party,’ and then you respond by saying, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to invite you anyway.’ This is childish, and once again, puts Chinese diplomacy in a very poor light,” the senator said.

“And it makes you wonder: Do they [CCP officials] really understand or do they really believe their own propaganda?”

Epoch Times Photo
A woman holds a sign as activists rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles on Nov. 3, 2021, calling for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics due to concerns over China’s human rights record. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced two months ago that tickets for the 2022 Games would be sold only to people from mainland China due to concerns over COVID-19. The approach differs from this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, which denied spectators but allowed world leaders to attend.

A diplomatic boycott was announced by the White House on Dec. 6, following Lithuania on Dec. 3, saying that Washington “cannot proceed with business as usual” in the face of the communist regime’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Australia became the next country to follow suit on Dec. 8.

The latest move follows the sudden disappearance of Peng Shuai, a top Chinese tennis player and three-time Olympian, who disappeared from the public view for weeks after publicly denouncing a retired senior Chinese official for allegedly sexually assaulting her.

Concerned by China’s ongoing human rights abuses, Abetz was one of the first federal parliamentarians on Dec. 7 to press his own government to follow suit with a boycott.

He told The Epoch Times that blame lay with the IOC, rather than athletes, for accepting Beijing’s Olympic bid.

“[The IOC] should never have allowed Beijing to host the Olympics, in breach of all the human rights values and standards that the Olympics stands for, and one really has to ask how on earth was this decision made,” he said.

Protesters hold up placards and banners as they attend a demonstration in Sydney to call on the Australian government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record, on June 23, 2021. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Human Rights Record ‘Appalling’

Abetz told The Epoch Times he finds the CCP’s mistreatment of its citizens “appalling.”

“[Their] behavior is now on display for the world to see,” Abetz said, listing the cases of Chinese citizen journalists Zhang Zhan and Fang Bin as examples of the regime’s egregious actions. Both Chinese citizens were detained for reporting on the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

“[The CCP] believes it can take the law into its own hands and deal with you,” he said, adding that its influences are designed to undermine a free society.

Beijing rolled out trade sanctions on Australian goods—such as coal, wine, barley, beef, lobster, timber, and cotton—after Canberra called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the pandemic.

A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs admitted in July that the trade spat with Australia was politically motivated.

Abetz said: “We have suffered some trade consequences for simply asking that which most other countries would have voluntarily agreed to. But there are certain things that are simply not for sale. And of course, our freedom is number one on that list.”

The regime’s treatment of non-Chinese journalists also worries the senator.

Cheng Lei, 49, an Australian Chinese journalist and news anchor for the international arm of China’s state broadcaster, was formally arrested in China on Feb. 5 on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas. Authorities previously detained her for six months without charge amid testy relations between Canberra and Beijing.

“If they are willing to treat an overseas person, an Australian citizen, in this manner, one has to ask the question, ‘How do they treat their own?’ And one suspects just as badly, if not worse,” the senator said.

‘It Does Hurt’

The German-born senator, a long-time advocate for an end to human rights abuses by the CCP, said he has encountered difficulties with the Chinese regime during his long political career.

Abetz, 63, was first elected in 1994 as a Liberal senator for the Australian state of Tasmania. He served as the government’s most senior cabinet minister and the main government spokesperson in the Senate in former prime minister Tony Abbott’s government.

Australian Senator Eric Abetz
Senator Eric Abetz welcomes Australia’s newest citizens on Australia Day on Jan. 26, 2021. (Courtesy of Senator Eric Abetz)

“I’ve always been at pains to let people know that my issue is not with any Chinese person, or the Chinese people, [but] a very small group called the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship. … It is very easy for some people who seek to defend this horrendous regime to throw the tag ‘racist’ at you,” Abetz said.

He called such racial profiling “ugly phrases,” which are the easiest way to push back against accusations about the regime.

“It does hurt,” the senator said. “And in fact, the death penalty, the forced organ harvesting, concentration camp slave labor goes on.”

The senator once ignited fierce responses after asking three Chinese Australians about their attitude toward Beijing during a Senate committee hearing last October. The three refrained from directly condemning the regime and have since publicly criticized the senator for his line of questioning.

Australian Senator Eric Abetz
Sen. Eric Abetz addresses local media. (Courtesy of Sen. Eric Abetz)

Some claimed the questions were prejudiced against people of color, and a grassroots group filed a petition for the prime minister of the country to denounce the senator over his tough stance on China.

Yet “the little burden,” as Abetz called it, pales into insignificance compared to that of the victims under China’s communist dictatorship.

“If I were a Christian, if I were a Falun Gong practitioner, if I were a Hongkong[er] seeking democracy and pursuing democracy, would I want the people in public life in Australia to be saying the sort of things that I’m saying today without fear or favor?” he said.

“Yes, I would.”

During the early stage of the global pandemic, Beijing also leveraged Australia’s sensitivities around the issue of racism and alleged that Chinese people were experiencing a “significant increase” in racism.

The allegations came after Australia introduced new and more stringent foreign investment laws that could potentially block Chinese companies—as China began to face further internal economic turmoil.

Rita Li
Rita Li is a reporter with The Epoch Times, focusing on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2018.