The U.S. will stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing to protest the Chinese 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.”
Diplomatic delegations usually include heads of states, ambassadors, elected leaders and other officials. It is usually announced a few weeks ahead of the Olympics, so a delegation for the Beijing games had not been released.
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 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 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 reeducation 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. Britain’s United Nations ambassador called the situation “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
China also has faced criticism for its response to claims by tennis star Peng Shuai that a top government official sexually assaulted her. The official was involved in the Olympic Games. Ms. Peng was not seen in public for nearly three weeks, fueling concerns about her safety until she participated in a conference call with Olympic officials in late November.
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. So far, no other nation has joined the U.S. boycott of the Beijing games.
In 1980, President Carter kept U.S. officials and athletes from participating in the summer games in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. More than 60 nations joined the boycott.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in September that he will attend the games despite a ban on Russian athletes competing in the games because of a steroid scandal.
Ahead of the White House announcement, a spokesperson for China‘s foreign ministry dismissed calls for a diplomatic boycott as “grandstanding.”
“If the U.S. insists in willfully clinging to its course, China will take resolute countermeasures,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference, but did not outline those steps.
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.”
“The Biden administration’s announced diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games is a crucial step toward challenging the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But this shouldn’t be the only action. The U.S. should now redouble efforts with like-minded governments to investigate and map out pathways to accountability for those responsible for these crimes and justice for the survivors.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Monday the diplomatic boycott was the right call. She had urged the Biden administration in May to keep officials away from the games.
“While we must support and celebrate our athletes, America — and the world — cannot give our official imprimatur to these games or proceed as if there is nothing wrong with holding the Olympics in a country perpetrating genocide and mass human rights violations,” she said in a statement.
“Allowing a country notorious for its appalling human rights record to host the Olympics makes a mockery of the Olympic Charter, which states that the Games should seek to foster ‘respect for universal and fundamental ethical principles.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a member of the Senate Select 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.
A diplomatic delegation typically meets with the U.S. athletes participating in the games and attends the competitions as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. They typically sit in their own private sections away from fans and others attending the game.
First lady Michelle Obama led the presidential delegation for the 2012 Olympics in London as President Obama decided not to attend. In 2016, Mr. Obama declined to attend the summer Olympic games in Rio, but sent Secretary of State John Kerry as head of the delegation, which included a number of officials and former athletes.
Former President Donald Trump skipped the Pyeongchang Winter Games in 2018, but sent a delegation that included Vice President Mike Pence and first daughter Ivanka Trump.
This summer, Mr. Biden opted not to attend the Tokyo Olympics, but he sent first lady Jill Biden as the delegation head. The delegation, which was scaled back because of COVID-19, also included Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Raymond Greene, the chargé d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.