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December 9, 2021

China has warned countries that have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics that they "will pay the price for their mistaken acts". The US, UK, Australia and Canada will not send government representatives to the Games because of concerns over China's human rights record.

This includes widespread allegations of abuse against the Uyghur minority group. France, host of the next Summer Games, said it would not join the boycott. The Winter Olympics are set to take place in Beijing in February.

"The United States, Britain and Australia have used the Olympics platform for political manipulation," Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry, said. Chinese state media claimed on Wednesday that Beijing "never planned to invite US and Western politicians who hype the 'boycott' topic".

The US was the first country to announce a diplomatic boycott, with Australia, Canada and the UK following suit. The move by these countries stops short of preventing athletes from attending - something which has been welcomed by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

"The presence of government officials is a political decision for each government so the principle of IOC neutrality applies," he said. Relations between the boycotting nations and China have been tense in recent years.

The US has accused China of genocide in its repression of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region. China denies all allegations of human rights abuses, saying its network of detention camps in Xinjiang are for "re-education" of the Uyghurs and other Muslims.

Relations are also strained over a crackdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong and concerns over Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who was not seen for weeks after she accused a top government official of sexual assault.

The Women's Tennis Association last week suspended all tournaments in China because of "serious doubts" about Ms Peng's safety. Relations with Canada have also been turbulent over its arrest of a top executive with Chinese tech giant Huawei, and the subsequent detention of two Canadians in China. All three were released earlier this year.

New Zealand is not sending its officials due to the pandemic but has also raised concerns in the past about human rights issues in China. Other countries - including Japan - are said to be considering diplomatic boycotts of the Games. Italy says it is not planning to join the diplomatic boycott. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to attend, despite his country being banned from competing due to a doping scandal in 2014.