The U.S. will stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China to protest the communist government’s human rights abuses, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games, given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” Ms. Psaki told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Under a diplomatic boycott, the U.S. athletes would still participate, but there would be no accompanying delegation of officials or politicians. It’s a way for the U.S. to make a statement about China‘s human rights abuses without punishing athletes.
“We did not think it was the right step to penalize athletes who have been training, preparing for this moment,” Ms. Psaki said. “And we felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation.
“The athletes on Team USA have our full support and we will be behind them 100%,” she continued. “As we cheer them on from home, we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”
The administration’s announcement comes just weeks after a virtual summit between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the meeting, Mr. Xi was was expected to bring up the Olympics and possibly invite Mr. Biden to attend the games, which are set to start Feb. 4.
Ms. Psaki said Monday that the Olympics were not discussed during the meeting with Mr. Xi.
The U.S. State Department has said “genocide and crimes against humanity” have occurred in the Xinijiang region in western China against Muslim Uyghurs.
China has been accused of carrying out an intensified campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other minorities, putting them in re-education camps. The Chinese government also has reportedly tried to limit the growth of the Uyghur population, destroyed mosques and shrines, and sent children to boarding schools for indoctrination.
Great Britain’s United Nations ambassador called the situation “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
Ms. Psaki said the U.S. had notified its allies of its decision and will leave it to other nations to make their own decisions about whether to boycott the games.
The People’s Daily Online, a Chinese government-controlled newspaper, over the weekend blasted the idea of a diplomatic boycott.
“Calls for a diplomatic boycott and threats of not sending athletes to Beijing 2022 by some western politicians do not change the fact that the Games will be gathering of the world’s winter sports athletes,” the paper said. “The Olympic Games has never been about politicians but rather athletes.”
In May, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson dismissed accusations of human rights abuses as “lies and disinformation” to “smear and slander” China.
A coalition of Human Rights activists called for a complete boycott of the Winter Olympics, which would mean U.S. athletes wouldn’t participate.
The coalition included Students for a Free Tibet, China Against the Death Penalty and the Tibet Action Institute. The coalition said participating in the games would be tantamount to endorsing “China’s genocide against the Uyghur people and legitimizing the increasingly repressive policies of the totalitarian Chinese regime.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in May called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics to draw attention to China’s human rights record.
“What moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?” she said at the time. “So, honor your athletes at home. Let’s have a diplomatic boycott. … Silence on this issue is unacceptable. It enables China’s abuses.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last month the U.S. should hold a full diplomatic and athletic boycott.
“The safety and security of our own athletes and China’s crimes against the world, we should launch a complete and total boycott,” he said.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.