US announces diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics

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White House says US will not send diplomats to upcoming Winter Games over China’s rights abuses, including in Xinjiang.

Published On 6 Dec 2021

The United States has announced plans to stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s “egregious” rights abuses, a move the Chinese government has already said would be met with “firm countermeasures”.

The White House on Monday said the US would not send an official delegation to the games in protest against Chinese human rights abuses, including Beijing’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in its western Xinjiang region.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the [People’s Republic of China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“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,” said Psaki.

A woman stands outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

She added that the diplomatic boycott, which has been encouraged by some members of the US Congress for months, would not affect the attendance of American athletes, who have the “full support” of the Biden administration.

The move comes just days before US President Joe Biden will host a virtual “Summit for Democracy” gathering of leaders and civil society actors from more than 100 countries on Thursday and Friday.

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

Before the announcement, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said those calling for a boycott are “grandstanding” and should stop “so as not to affect the dialogue and cooperation between China and the United States in important areas”.

“If the US insists in wilfully clinging to its course, China will take resolute countermeasures,” Zhao Lijian said during a news briefing, without elaborating on what those countermeasures could include.

China has rejected international criticism and sanctions over the situation in Xinjiang, where rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated.

The Chinese government has denied wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centres to combat “extremism”.

Monday’s announcement from the White House also came just weeks after Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a virtual meeting in mid-November to address several points of tension between the two nations.

The relationship has been strained over issues including Taiwan, Hong Kong and China’s treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. But both leaders played up their close ties during the virtual call on November 16.

Biden urged better and more “honest” communication with China, while Xi referred to the US president as his “old friend” and said the rivals must work more closely together. “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation,” he said.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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