President Biden said Thursday he’s thinking of staging a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China to protest the communist government’s human rights abuses.
“It’s something we are considering,” Mr. Biden said, when asked about reports the U.S. is planning to not send an official delegation to the Winter Games.
If a diplomatic boycott occurs, the U.S. athletes would still take part as usual, but there would be no accompanying delegation of officials and politicians. It would be a way for the U.S. to make a statement about China’s human rights record without punishing athletes.
The 2022 Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4 in Beijing, so time is running out for Mr. Biden to make a decision.
Others in Washington are demanding a full boycott similar to what President Carter ordered in 1980 when the U.S. led 65 countries in skipping the Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Sen. Tom Cotton said Thursday that a diplomatic boycott would be the “absolute bare minimum that any civilized nation would do.” He called for a full boycott with “no athletes, no administration officials, no corporate sponsors” from the U.S.
Mr. Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and member of the Intelligence Committee, said the games pose a security risk for athletes and coaches who could be subject to pervasive surveillance or potential kidnapping by the Chinese Communist Party while in Beijing. He also raised concerns over the potential for the CCP to collect DNA samples from the athletes through COVID-19 testing, which he said aligns with their intelligence gathering objectives.
“For these reasons, 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.
Mr. Biden’s remarks come just days after a virtual summit between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the meeting, Mr. Xi was expected to bring up the Olympics and possibly personally invite Mr. Biden to attend, according to multiple reports.
The pair discussed a variety of policy issues, but the Olympics were not discussed, according to a White House readout of the meeting.
Mr. Biden’s comments Thursday were the first time the White House has addressed a possible diplomatic boycott despite rampant speculation that it might happen. Officials had remained mum on the issue.
The U.S. State Department said “genocide and crimes against humanity” have occurred in the Xinjiang 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 has also allegedly 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.”
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 that 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.”
In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson accused her of using the “so-called human rights issue” to “smear and slander China,” adding that she had spread “lies and disinformation.”
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.