OTTAWA/BEIJING (Reuters) -- Canada joined Australia and Britain in a U.S. led diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Wednesday, while China hit back saying it had not invited government officials from the U.K. to attend.
The U.S. has said its government officials would boycott February's Beijing Olympics because of China's human rights "atrocities", weeks after talks aimed at easing tense relations between the world's two largest economies.
China said the U.S. would "pay a price" for its decision and warned of countermeasures but gave no details. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sought to play down the growing diplomatic boycott.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Beijing would be aware of long-standing Western concerns about human rights in China. "[So] it shouldn't be a surprise that we decided not to send diplomatic representation."
Trudeau's decision seems sure to add tension to an already strained relationship, which sank to new lows over the detention of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.
Meng had been under house arrest in Vancouver, where she had fought extradition to the United States for almost three years on bank fraud charges. She was released and returned to China in September.
Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested by Beijing shortly after Meng's 2018 detention were also freed in September.
Almost as Trudeau spoke, IOC President Thomas Bach said the Committee had always been concerned with the participation of the athletes in the Olympic Games.
So "we welcome the support for their Olympic teams all these governments have been emphasizing," he told a video news conference. "This is giving the athletes certainty and this is what the IOC is about."
Asked earlier in parliament if his country would follow Washington's lead, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, no ministers are expected to attend and no officials."
"I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible and that remains the policy of the government," he added, indicating that British athletes will still compete.
China accused Britain of a smear campaign against the Beijing Games contravening the Olympic spirit.
"The Chinese government has not invited government ministers or officials from the UK to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics," a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.
"Making an issue out of the presence of government officials at the Beijing Winter Olympics is in essence a political smearing campaign."
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said its decision came because of Australia's struggles to re-open diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang and Beijing's moves against Australian imports.
Announcing the plans, Morrison said Beijing had not responded to several issues raised by Canberra, including the rights abuse accusations.
China has denied any wrongdoing in Xinjiang and said allegations are fabricated.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing in Beijing that Australian politicians were engaged in "political posturing".
"Whether they come or not, nobody cares," he added.
The Australian Olympic Committee said the boycott would have no impact on athletes' preparations for the Games, which run from Feb. 4 to 20, adding that "diplomatic options" were a matter for governments.
Other U.S. allies have been slow to commit to joining the boycott, though Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to the Games, the Sankei Shimbun daily said on Wednesday, citing unidentified government sources.
President Joe Biden's administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China's Xinjiang region. China denies all rights abuses.
The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing to bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the U.S. Congress and rights groups, is happening despite attempts to stabilise ties with a video meeting last month between Biden and China's Xi Jinping.
Ties between Australia and its top trade partner, China, are at a low ebb after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and sought an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Beijing responded with tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal and wine.