France is still considering along with other EU countries its position on joining a diplomatic boycott by Western allies of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, an official said Thursday, after a minister indicated French officials would be present.
Asked about a boycott announced by the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada, Education and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer earlier said that France “won’t do it”.
“We need to be careful about the link between sports and politics,” Blanquer said during the interview with RMC radio and BFM television.
“Sports is a world apart that needs to be protected from political interference. If not, things can get out of control and it could end up killing all of the competitions.”
Blanquer said he would not travel to the Chinese capital, but junior sports minister Roxana Maracineanu would represent the French government.
But an official in his entourage, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the comments by Blanquer should indicate that France is not considering a wholesale sporting boycott of the games.
The position of Paris on the diplomatic presence is still being discussed and has not been finalised, the official emphasised.
Blanquer’s comments in an early morning TV interview had been contradicted almost simultaneously by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who said he was still seeking a common EU stance on a possible boycott.
“We are in favour of there being a common position and we will consider all the issues at the next meeting of (EU) foreign ministers or the next. But this question must be treated as Europeans,” he said at a news conference with his German counterpart.
French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to avoid entering into open confrontation with China and has spoken about the risk of conflict as relations sour between Washington and Beijing.
He was also left furious with the United States, Britain and Australia in September after they signed a new security deal called AUKUS that led Australia to abandon its purchase of French submarines.
China warned Western nations on Thursday they would “pay the price” for a diplomatic boycott.
Washington announced its boycott earlier in the week, saying it was prompted by widespread rights abuses by China and what it sees as a “genocide” against the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
“We need to condemn human rights violations in China because there are some and they need to be condemned,” Blanquer added.
“When it comes to sporting competitions, we need to have the right and appropriate response.”
The EU-China relationship has been rocky this year, with both sides exchanging tit-for-tat sanctions over the treatment of the Uyghurs.
Former German chancellor Angela Merkel always encouraged close ties with China during her 16 years in office, but she was succeeded by Olaf Scholz on Wednesday who is set to visit Paris on Friday and hold a joint press conference with Macron.