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US announces Winter Olympic 'diplomatic' boycott

December 6, 2021

Washington has said it will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the games. However, the move does not stop US athletes from competing.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Games logo
Having hosted the 2008 Summer Games, the Olympics return to Beijing on February 4Image: Kyodo/dpa/picture alliance

The US on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, citing ongoing human rights abuses in China. 

"The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC's [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 said.

"The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home."

An IOC spokesperson said: "The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects."

What is behind the diplomatic boycott?

Last month, US President Joe Biden said he was considering holding back official US representation at the Beijing Games over China's human rights record.

Washington has led international criticism over Beijing's crackdown on the Uyghur Muslim minority in the western Xinjiang region.

"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 a press briefing Monday.

Other countries, including Germany and the UK have discussed potentially withholding high-level officials from the games, which begin on February 2. 

China decries US 'grandstanding'

"Without being invited, American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is purely wishful thinking and grandstanding," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing. 

"If the US side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermeasures," Zhao added, without specifying what form Beijing's response could take. 

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington told Reuters: "Such a pretentious act is only a political manipulation and a grave distortion of the spirit of the Olympic Charter. In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not."

Just 14 years after the 2008 Summer Olympics served as one of the first global stages to showcase a rapidly developing China, Beijing put its name forward again for next year's winter version.

However, along with international criticism over human rights, the games have been also been weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic, with international spectators being barred from attending. 

Amnesty: China committing 'crimes against humanity'

ar, wmr/msh, jsi (AP, AFP, Reuters)