U.S. Plans Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics, Will Let Athletes Go

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -
u.s. china olympics
A large screen displays U.S. President Joe Biden (L)and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit as people walk by during the evening CCTV news broadcast outside a shopping mall on November 16 in Beijing. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

U.S. government officials will boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in February due to concerns about “crimes against humanity” and other human-rights abuses, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, opening a new flashpoint between the world’s two biggest economies.

The so-called diplomatic boycott means that athletes are free to compete even as administration officials stay home. The U.S. decision stops short of the full-scale measures seen during the Cold War and at other points in Olympic history.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human-rights abuses,” Psaki told reporters Monday.

She said that officials’ staying home sends a “clear message” that “business as usual” isn’t appropriate due to the U.S. concerns over human rights, but that athletes who have been training and “giving up a lot of blood, sweat and tears preparing for these Olympics” should be allowed to compete.

The announcement comes a few weeks after President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping held a virtual meeting, the first since Biden became president. In that call, Biden raised U.S. allegations of severe human-rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, home to a large Muslim Uyghur population.

The state-run Global Times reported last week that Beijing had no plan to invite any American politicians to the games, set to start Feb 4.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday at a press briefing in Beijing that U.S. politicians were hyping the possibility of a boycott before they even received an invitation to attend and have offended China’s people.

“If the U.S. is insistent on going down the wrong path, China will take necessary and resolute countermeasures,” he said, without elaborating.

Biden also will host a virtual democracy summit Thursday and Friday, with Taiwan among the more than 100 invitees that include the U.K. and Japan. The event aims to bring together democratic governments to discuss their efforts to fight corruption and authoritarianism and advance human rights.