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US announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

By AFP   December 6, 2021 | 06:12 pm PT
US announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Photo by AFP
The United States will not send government officials to the 2022 Winter Olympics, the White House said on Monday, after Beijing threatened unspecified "countermeasures" against any diplomatic boycott.

President Joe Biden said last month that he was considering such a boycott amid criticism of China's human rights record, including what Washington says is genocide against minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.

The move – despite a recent effort to stabilize ties with a video meeting last month between Biden and China's leader Xi Jinping – is certain to further strain the two superpowers' relations, which have been at their lowest point in decades.

"The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC's ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a daily press briefing.

"U.S. 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 said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

The diplomatic boycott, which has been encouraged by some members of Congress and rights advocacy groups for months, would not affect the attendance of American athletes, she said.

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

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States has consulted allies on a "shared approach" to the Beijing Games. It was unclear if they would follow the U.S. lead.

"Canada remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China," Canada's foreign ministry said in a statement. "We were notified of the U.S. decision and we will continue to discuss this matter with our partners and allies."

The diplomatic boycott also puts corporate Olympic sponsors in "an awkward spot", but fell short of the U.S. government implying they should cut ties, said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals.

"The most important issue (for the sponsors) is whether the U.S. team would attend," Pilson said.

Asked whether the Biden administration wants American companies to boycott the Games, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the government would not dictate private sector practices, but that firms should be "fully cognizant" of what is transpiring in Xinjiang.

A spokesperson from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, which is broadcasting the Beijing Games in the United States, said it would still be broadcasting events from China.

China's embassy in Washington called the U.S. move "political manipulation", as no invitations had been extended to U.S. politicians in the first place.

"In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to be successfully held," embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said.

Earlier, China's foreign ministry said Beijing would take "resolute countermeasures" should Washington go ahead with such a boycott, but it did not elaborate.

The United States is next due to host an Olympics in 2028 in Los Angeles, raising questions of how China might respond.

Beijing says it opposes the politicization of sports, but it has punished American sports leagues in the past, including the National Basketball Association, for crossing political red lines.

 
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