United States announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Monday that the Biden administration “will not send any diplomatic or official representation” to the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Psaki, confirming the long-awaited diplomatic boycott, cited the Chinese government’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang”, as well as “other human rights violations.”

The announcement came hours after a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, anticipating the move, accused American politicians of “great popularity” and “political provocation” and threatened “firm countermeasures” “. Psaki did not directly comment on this threat.

She said, however, that American athletes had the “full support” of the White House. Their participation in the Winter Games, which begin on February 4, will not be affected.

“But we will not be contributing to the Games fanfare,” Psaki said. “The diplomatic or official representation of the United States would treat these Games as usual in the face of [China’s] gross human rights violations and atrocities in Xinjiang. And we just can’t do that. “

Why a diplomatic boycott?

President Biden said last month, days after his virtual meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, that the United States was considering a diplomatic boycott. The Olympics were not discussed at this meeting, but Biden discussed human rights violations in the country.

China is accused of arbitrarily detaining over a million Muslims, many of whom are Uyghurs, and of suppressing freedoms throughout the western Xinjiang region. Both the Biden administration and the Trump administration have viewed China’s treatment of Uyghurs as “genocide.”

Members of Congress, activists and many others have long urged the United States and other democratic nations to carry out a diplomatic boycott. Senator Mitt Romney described the idea in a March editorial, writing that an “economic and diplomatic boycott” “would reduce China’s revenues, end its propaganda and expose its abuses.” Romney and Senator Tim Kaine then co-sponsored part of a large, China-focused bill passed by the Senate in June that made the implementation of a policy of boycotting the United States official.

A coalition of 180 human rights groups also called for the creation of one “to ensure [that the Olympics] are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling human rights violations and suppression of dissent. Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch director for China, told Yahoo Sports in February, “The key here is not to give the Chinese government any particular legitimacy around this event.

On Monday, Richardson hailed the White House decision as “a crucial step in challenging the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkish communities.”

“But that shouldn’t be the only action,” she continued. “The United States should now redouble its efforts with like-minded governments to investigate and chart the course towards accountability for those responsible for these crimes and justice for the survivors.”

The coalition of rights groups, which now number more than 250, also “welcomed the announcement” and urged other countries to follow “or risk endorsing China’s gross human rights violations.”

Psaki said the White House had informed its allies of its decision, but indicated that the Biden administration would not pressure them to join it. Several European countries are said to be considering similar measures. Lithuania became the first to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Games last week, after its foreign minister called on EU and US officials to coordinate their position.

The case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared last month after accusing a senior Chinese politician of sexual assault, has amplified calls for a boycott. The International Olympic Committee has drawn strong criticism for appearing to help the Chinese government silence Peng. Several human rights defenders see the IOC as an “accomplice”.

The United States will announce a doplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. (Noel Celis / AFP / Getty Images)

What is a diplomatic boycott and what impact would it have on athletes?

The diplomatic boycott will have no significant impact on the athletes of Team USA. All athletes who qualify will still be allowed to travel to Beijing and compete.

Instead, the Biden administration will bar any U.S. government official or dignitary from attending the Games. First Lady Jill Biden led the United States delegation to the Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer, attended several sporting events and chatted with everyone from team athletes to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Such a delegation in Beijing will no longer exist. It is not known if any American officials were even invited. Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said they had not been. Now they sure won’t be.

But a delegation from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, comprising hundreds of athletes and support staff, will still be in Beijing. USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement shortly after Psaki’s announcement that the Olympic committee “greatly appreciates the unwavering support of the president and his administration and we know they will cheer us on from home. them this winter “.

The United States boycotted the Games in their entirety only once – in 1980, when they were held in Moscow, shortly after a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“We are not [doing that]”Psaki reiterated on Monday.” The athletes will participate. “

She said the diplomatic boycott was not the only step the United States would take to tackle human rights violations in China. But other measures will not include a full boycott.

“I don’t think we thought it was the right measure to penalize the athletes, who have been training, are preparing for this moment,” Psaki said when asked why the administration would not pursue a full boycott. “We felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official US delegation.”

Zhao, the Chinese spokesman, did not say how China might retaliate.

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