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Beijing Olympics: US walks back boycott remarks

April 7, 2021

Washington says it is in talks with its allies about how to approach the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Human rights groups and some US lawmakers have been urging a boycott.

A general view shows the ice rink at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing
Beijing is set to host the next Winter Games in 2022Image: Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images

As the Biden administration consults with allies about a joint approach to China and its human rights record, the State Department said Tuesday that boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics was not yet part of the talks.

There had been confusion over Washington's stance after department spokesperson Ned Price said earlier that the boycott was "something that we certainly wish to discuss." The State Department and Price later clarify the remarks.

"Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners," a senior official said.

Price tweeted: "We don’t have any announcement regarding the Beijing Olympics."

This comes amid growing calls for the US to back out of the event due to human rights violations in China.

Debate over boycott

Human rights campaigners and some Republican lawmakers in the US have increasingly called for a boycott of the games, citing reports from rights groups on the mass incarceration and indoctrination the Uyghur Muslim minority in the region of Xinjiang. 

Washington had previously described the Chinese government's rights violations as "genocide," which Beijing firmly rejects.

Both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) oppose boycotts.

In March, IOC president Thomas Bach said history shows that boycotts "never achieved anything."

USOPC president Susanne Lyons argued that while there was "a steady drumbeat" of support for a boycott, it would hurt athletes who had been training for competition.

"While we would never want to minimize what is happening from a human rights perspective in China, we do not support an athlete boycott," said Lyons.

During the Cold War, the US led a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow to protest the late-1979 Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

In return, several countries — including the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Cuba —  retaliated by staying away from the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, citing concerns over the safety of their athletes.

China's human rights abuse

China has come under pressure due its stance toward Taiwan, the clampdown on Hong Kong and especially the treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

More than 1 million members of the Uyghur minority and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been detained in prison-like re-education centers, according to several researchers, journalists and foreign governments.

Others are forced to work in factories and cotton fields. China has denied those claims, saying it is providing vocational training to minorities to combat Islamic extremism.

mna/rs (AP, AFP)