The United States is planning a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing. The action is meant to protest Chinese human rights abuses. Now China is vowing to engage in “firm countermeasures.”
The dispatching of high-level delegations to each Olympics is a long-time tradition for the United States and other nations. But with the February 2022 Winter Games set to take place in People’s Republic of China (PRC), U.S. dignitaries will be staying home.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says U.S. athletes will continue to compete and “have our full support.” But, she adds, “We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games” in China.
“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,” Psaki told reporters on Monday, “and we simply can’t do that.”
Australia is dealing with a number of disputes with China too. Officials there have also raised the possibility of a diplomatic boycott.
American officials, including President Joe Biden, have criticized Beijing for human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur minority, suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, military aggression in Taiwan, and more.
Americans can be thankful to live in a country that still defends many types of human rights—and speaks out about them. “Open your mouth,” says Proverbs 31:9, “judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez calls the diplomatic Olympic boycott “a necessary step to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to human rights in the face of the Chinese government’s unconscionable abuses.”
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, however, calls the action a “half measure.” He says, “The United States should fully boycott the Genocide Games in Beijing.” Cotton believes that “American businesses should not financially support the Chinese Communist Party, and we must not expose Team USA to the dangers of a repugnant authoritarian regime.”
Olympic boycotts aren’t unheard of. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter kept U.S. athletes home from the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Sixty-five other countries boycotted the games that year as well. At the next Olympics in 1984, 18 mostly Communist regimes boycotted the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Psaki has not said whether President Biden ever considered pulling athletes from the games. “I don’t think that we felt it was the right step to penalize athletes who have been training and preparing for this moment,” Psaki says. “We felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation.”
Human rights advocates and lawmakers in the United States say a boycott is a necessary step. They maintain China is using the games to whitewash its ill treatment of civil rights activists, political dissidents, and ethnic minorities.
The International Olympic Committee calls the decision to keep dignitaries away from the games a “political decision for each government” that it “fully respects.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian labels the U.S. move an “outright political provocation” and accuses U.S. politicians of grandstanding. “American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics,” Zhao says. “If the U.S. side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermeasures.”
(A visitor to the Shougang Park walks past a sculpture for the Beijing Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, on November 9, 2021. AP/Ng Han Guan)