China has warned countries to “stop politicising sports” after New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s comments on diplomatic boycotts of the Winter Olympics in Beijing were put to China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Thursday.
The US, UK, Australia and Canada have said they will not send government representatives, in other words, a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, because of concerns over China's human rights record.
They cited, in particular, the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other minority groups in China’s western Xinjiang Province.
The nations will still allow their athletes to go to the games in February.
On Tuesday, it emerged New Zealand had also decided to not send ministerial representation.
Deputy Prime Minister and Sports Minister Grant Robertson said that decision was “mostly to do with Covid” making travel logistics difficult.
"There was a range of factors but mostly to do with Covid and the fact that the logistics of travel and so on around Covid are not conducive to that kind of trip," he said.
At a Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee on Thursday morning, O'Connor was asked by National's Trade spokesperson Todd McClay whether he supported "the boycott".
O’Connor replied: "Yes, it's something that we need to do as a nation, we need to stand up and make points.
"We are strong, we are independent. And as I say we’ve been very strong on those issues around human rights and unnecessary discrimination, we should continue to do that.”
After O’Connor’s comments were put to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin at Thursday’s afternoon’s media briefing he said: "The Beijing Winter Olympics is a grand event for winter Olympic athletes and snow sports enthusiasts around the world.
"We welcome athletes from all countries, including New Zealand, to China to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics.
"We hope all parties will demonstrate a 'more united' Olympic spirit and stop politicising sports."
The details of New Zealand’s diplomatic travel concerns were unclear, but the decision follows recent trips by Foreign Minister Mahuta through the Middle East and North America, Minister of Climate Change James Shaw’s trip to COP26 in Glasgow and O’Connor’s various trade visits to Europe and the US.
Robertson has said the decision was taken, and announced to Beijing, before the Covid-19 Omicron variant emerged.
New Zealand athletes were still to attend.
He also said New Zealand has consistently spoken out about issues, including human rights, in China.
"We've made clear to China on numerous occasions our concerns about human rights issues - as recently as the Prime Minister talking to President Xi," he said.
"They're well aware of our view on human rights.”
On Thursday, China warned countries that have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics that they "will pay the price for their mistaken acts".
1News has contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment.