China says New Zealand athletes 'welcome' at Beijing Winter Olympics despite no ministerial representation

China says New Zealand athletes are welcome at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games despite Aotearoa not sending ministerial representatives, but hopes "all parties" can "stop politicising sports".

The United States on Tuesday confirmed it would not send government officials to next year's Winter Olympic Games given what it calls the ongoing "genocide against minority Muslims" in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Athletes will still be able to attend and White House Press Secretary Jan Psaki said they had the country's "full support".

Other nations, including the United Kingdom and Australia, are also currently considering whether or not to send any official representatives to the sporting event in protest of the human rights abuses.

New Zealand decided in October it would not send any ministers to the Games and informed China of that.

Deputy Prime Minister and Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Tuesday the decision was "mostly to do with COVID" making the logistics of travel difficult. He said Aotearoa has also consistently raised human rights issues.

Robertson at one point said New Zealand was "not attending at a diplomatic level as it were", however then clarified athletes would likely receive some support from officials on the ground. Beyond that, he did not think diplomats would attend. Robertson wouldn't call it a diplomatic ban.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Newshub on Tuesday that the New Zealand Olympic Committee had sought accreditation for some embassy staff - including Aotearoa's Ambassador to China - in order to provide consular support should it be needed.

It said, "no decisions have been taken on attendance beyond this".

Grant Robertson confirmed on Tuesday that no ministers would attend.
Grant Robertson confirmed on Tuesday that no ministers would attend. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was asked overnight what it made of New Zealand not sending ministers to the Games and if it was concerned about a domino effect. 

"On your first question, the Beijing Winter Olympic Games is a grand gathering of winter sports athletes and fans all over the world," Zhao replied "We welcome athletes from all countries, including New Zealand, to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics. We hope that all parties can practice the Olympic spirit of 'together' and stop politicising sports."

"On your second question, as we stated on various occasions, it is athletes, instead of politicians clamouring for 'boycott' out of selfish political gains, that should be in the spotlight. In fact, no one would care whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the Olympics to be successfully held by Beijing."

While Zhao said "no one would care" if politicians come or not, he also told reporters on Wednesday that the United States will "pay a price for its erroneous actions". 

"The US should stop politicising sports, and stop disrupting and undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, lest it should affect bilateral dialogue and cooperation in important areas and international and regional issues."

New Zealand MPs and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Simon O'Connor and Louisa Wall have been among those pushing for a diplomatic boycott. They've written to senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, asking them to publicly confirm they won't accept any invite to the Games.

"Failure to do so will only lend further legitimacy to the Chinese government's efforts to whitewash the abuses taking place in the Uighur region and elsewhere."

In October, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping she had wished China "every success" with hosting the Olympics, but also noted that it "wasn't a general practice for ministers to attend". 

She said in that same call that issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong were raised. The New Zealand Parliament earlier this year passed a motion saying "severe human rights abuses" were taking place in the north-western Chinese province.

Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee who has mostly waved off questions about China's suitability to hold the event given its human rights issues, questioned on Wednesday why it was his organisation's "responsibility" to get involved. 

"Our responsibility is to run the Games in accordance with the Olympic Charter... and to bring together the athletes from 206 teams and the IOC refugee team under one roof," he said.

"Going beyond this, expecting that Olympic Games can fundamentally change a country, its political system or its laws, is a completely exaggerated expectation. The Olympics cannot solve problems that generations of politicians have not solved."