Biden announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing

December 6, 2021
A visitor to the Shougang Park walks past the a sculpture for the Beijing Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. China on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, threatened to take "firm countermeasures" if the U.S. proceeds with a diplomatic boycott of February's Beijing Winter Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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The Biden administration said Monday it will not send an official U.S. delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing – launching a “diplomatic boycott” aimed at rebuking China over its human rights abuses. 

The decision represents a major geopolitical snub and comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, notingthe administration “will not send any diplomatic or official representation … given the PRC ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity … and other human rights abuses.”

“It cannot be business as usual,” she continued.

The U.S. traditionally sends a roster of high-profile dignitaries, often led by the sitting vice president or the first lady, to attend Olympic events – including the opening and closing ceremonies. First lady Jill Biden led the U.S. delegation to the most recent Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

More:First lady Jill Biden reaps a FLOTUS bonus, cheering Team USA at an unusual Tokyo Olympics

“We greatly appreciate the unwavering support of the President and his administration and we know they will be cheering us on from home this winter,” U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee chief executive officer Sarah Hirshland said in a statement. “Competing on behalf of the United States is an honor and a privilege, and Team USA is excited and ready to make the nation proud.”

Spokespeople for the International Olympic Committee did not immediately reply to a request for comment Monday.

Human rights groups had lobbied the White House to push for a full-scale U.S. boycott of the 2022 Games, but such a decision rests solely with the USOPC, which has declined to entertain the idea. 

A diplomatic boycott falls short of that step but is still a sharp rebuke that is likely to infuriate Chinese officials. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters Monday that such a move would prompt “firm countermeasures” from China.

It is immediately unclear if any U.S. allies will follow the White House’s lead. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are among the countries that are also said to be considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games, which begin Feb. 4.

More:WTA suspends tennis events in China over concern for Peng Shuai following sexual assault allegations

Proponents of a boycott say that China will use the Games as a propaganda tool, and the dazzling spectacle will give Beijing a stamp of international legitimacy to continue their campaign of repression. 

Biden’s own advisers have said China is engaging in “genocide” against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in China’s Xinjiang region. Xi’s government has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in “re-education” and labor camps in Xinjiang.

Washington has also expressed alarm over China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, where a pro-democracy movement has been quashed, and Beijing’s threats against Taiwan’s independence, which it sees as a breakaway province. 

Chinese officials have brushed off the U.S. criticism as foreign meddling in domestic affairs. China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is “about terrorism and separatism, not about human rights,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said earlier this year. 

China has also come under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations made by tennis star Peng Shuai. 

More:Missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai reappears in public at youth tournament in Beijing

Shuai disappeared from public view after accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, of forcing her to have sex with him. The Chinese government scrubbed her social media post about the incident from her account on Wiebo, a leading Chinese social media platform, and scrubbed all other references to her name online. 

Past Olympic boycotts

This is not the first time the U.S. has used the Olympic Games to register objections to a host country’s policies. 

American athletes boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow under pressure from President Jimmy Carter, who viewed the boycott as a sanction after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Dozens of other countries joined the U.S. in its boycott, and the Soviet Union responded with its own boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. 

Many U.S. athletes were furious over the decision to boycott, and a group of them even filed a lawsuit against the USOPC, seeking to overturn it. 

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama declined to send the vice president, first lady or any of his Cabinet secretaries to the Sochi Games. Instead, the U.S. delegation included two openly gay athletes, an apparent rebuke of Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Contributing: Michael Collins

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