Tue | Jan 18, 2022

US plans diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Published:Monday | December 6, 2021 | 3:50 PM
A police officer wearing a face mask and goggles to protect against COVID-19 stands near a poster of a skier on the wall at a train station in Zhangjiakou in northern China's Hebei Province, Friday, November 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing to protest Chinese human rights abuses, the White House confirmed Monday, a move that China has vowed to greet with “firm countermeasures.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said US athletes will continue to compete and will “have our full support,” but added, “we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”

“US diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC's egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we simply can't do that,” Psaki told reporters during Monday's briefing.

“We have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights. And we feel strongly in our position and we will continue to take actions to advance human rights in China and beyond,” Psaki added.

The announcement came as Biden prepares to host a White House Summit for Democracy, a virtual gathering of leaders and civil society experts from more than 100 countries that are set to take place Thursday and Friday.

The administration has said Biden intends to use the meeting “to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called such a diplomatic boycott “a necessary step to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to human rights in the face of the Chinese government's unconscionable abuses.”

He called on “other allies and partners that share our values to join with the United States in this diplomatic boycott.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Alabama Republican, however, said the diplomatic boycott amounted to a “half measure.”

American officials, including Biden, have criticised Beijing for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in northwest Xinjiang province, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more.

President Donald Trump's administration in its final days declared the abuses in northwest China “genocide.”

“The United States should fully boycott the Genocide Games in Beijing,” Cotton said.

“American businesses should not financially support the Chinese Communist Party and we must not expose Team USA to the dangers of a repugnant authoritarian regime that disappears its own athletes.”

Psaki would not comment whether Biden weighed pulling athletes from the games — many of whom have been training for years for the moment to compete on the global stage.

In 1980, in the midst of the Cold War, Jimmy Carter kept US athletes home from the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“I don't think that we felt it was the right step to penalise athletes who have been training and preparing for this moment, and we felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation,” Psaki said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused US politicians of grandstanding over the issue of not sending dignitaries to attend events that China hopes will showcase its economic development and technological prowess.

Speaking to reporters at a daily briefing, Zhao said such a move would be an “outright political provocation,” but gave no details on how China might retaliate.

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