LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that there would be “effectively a diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Beijing Olympics by Britain, which has now joined the United States and others in pulling its top officials from attendance of the Winter Games.
The boycott by Britain means that athletes will be allowed to compete but provides a way for the country to publicly condemn China for its human rights abuses. Australia and Lithuania have also announced a diplomatic boycott.
When asked during a question-and-answer session in Parliament whether Britain planned to join the formal diplomatic boycott of the Games, the prime minister initially stopped short, saying “we do not support sporting boycotts,” but then confirmed that there were no plans for ministers to attends.
Lawmakers pushed Mr. Johnson on the matter, and he eventually conceded that the measures did in fact amount to a boycott, showing his reluctance to officially snub China in the same way as the United States.
“There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, no ministers are expected to attend,” Mr. Johnson said. He added, “I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible.”
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Iain Duncan Smith, a member of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party, challenged the prime minister after his initial statement, saying it was “not at all strong enough.”
“I support the request that the U.K. government act against this dictatorial, brutal Chinese regime that is persecuting everyone from Christians through to Tibetans and terrorizing the Uyghurs,” he said, and he urged Britain to follow the lead of the United States and others to send a message.
Mr. Johnson said that he had “no hesitation in raising these issues with China” and added that he had done so during his last conversation with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.
The threat of a diplomatic rebuff has appeared to unnerve Beijing. The word “boycott” appeared to have been banned in online searches after the United States made its announcement. And reports in Chinese state news media were critical of what some said was the politicization of a sporting event in a way that contravened the Olympic spirit.
There has been pressure in the international community to hold China to account for a range of issues, including the abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, and the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
When the tennis star Peng Shuai went missing from public life last month after accusing a top Communist Party official of sexual assault, the calls for accountability gained momentum.
The question remains whether other countries will follow suit. European nations, which have been sharply critical of Beijing’s policies, face a difficult decision. While the European Union has been a vocal critic of China’s human rights abuses — and the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution this year calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the Winter Olympics — many member countries have extensive trade ties with Beijing that they do not want to jeopardize.
The Muslim Council of Britain, which has been advocating for a full diplomatic boycott, said that it welcomed Mr. Johnson’s announcement but wanted to ensure that the measure covered all British officials, diplomats and political representatives.
The council “is calling for the event to be shunned at the Chinese capital because of the systematic and willful oppression of Uyghur Muslims and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang,” it said in a statement.
On Thursday, an independent tribunal that held a series of hearings in London about claims of Chinese abuses against Muslims in the Xinjiang region will deliver its judgment. The tribunal was established in 2020 by Geoffrey Nice, a distinguished international human rights lawyer, at the urging of Uyghur activists. While the tribunal has no government backing or legal authority, it could add to tensions between Britain and China.