No US official will attend Beijing Winter Olympics, White House announces
The United States will not send President Joe Biden or any U.S. government official to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February in a signal of displeasure over Chinas human rights abuses, the White House announced Monday.
The diplomatic boycott allows American athletes to participate in the Games, but is a significant political snub to Washington's greatest military and economic competitor.
Pressure to mount such a boycott has been building for months, with lawmakers from both parties and human rights advocates calling on the Biden administration to not attend in response to Beijing's repressive policies against democracy activists in Hong Kong and Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. The administration in March declared China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims a genocide.
"The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic games given the PRC's ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. "The athletes on team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games."
Biden told reporters last month that he was weighing a diplomatic boycott.
The decision stands in contrast to 1980, when President Jimmy Carter kept U.S. officials and athletes out of the Summer Games in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Though more than 60 countries joined the boycott in 1980, hundreds of American athletes were deprived of their chance at Olympic glory.
The U.S. government cannot unilaterally bar athletes from the Olympics or declare a boycott. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, an independent nonprofit organization, has sole authority to make the final call.
"I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation," said Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, on Monday, responding to reports that a boycott announcement was imminent. "U.S. politicians keep hyping a 'diplomatic boycott' without even being invited to the Games. This wishful thinking and pure grandstanding is aimed at political manipulation. It is a grave travesty of the spirit of the Olympic Charter, a blatant political provocation and a serious affront to the 1.4 billion Chinese people."
The Olympics host committee, Beijing 2022, said in a statement last month that it "has been upholding its commitment to hosting the Games in an open manner, and has been welcoming people from all walks of life and from all countries . . . to participate in the Games in their own ways."
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be attending the event, according to Russian media reports in September. He accepted an invitation from Beijing to attend despite Russian athletes being barred from competing under the Russian flag and anthem until December 2022 as a result of a long-running, state-sponsored doping program.
An International Olympic Committee spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
For months, U.S. Olympic officials have voiced opposition to any sort of athlete protest, urging government leaders to pursue other avenues to voice displeasure with China and its policies.
"We greatly appreciate the unwavering support of the President and his administration and we know they will be cheering us on from home this winter," Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the USOPC, said in a statement Monday. "Competing on behalf of the United States is an honor and a privilege, and Team USA is excited and ready to make the nation proud."
With less than two months to go before the Beijing Opening Ceremonies, the announced diplomatic boycott is just the latest mark against a Winter Games that has been controversial since the day China was awarded hosting rights in 2015.
The country most recently has come under fire for its response to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's public accusations that she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier who played a key role in securing the Beijing Winter Games.
Peng was not heard from for nearly three weeks, sparking concern across the sports world. She finally participated in a video call with IOC officials on Nov. 21, but Olympic leaders have faced heavy criticism for their handling of the matter, which the IOC has described as a "quiet diplomacy approach."
A diplomatic boycott is largely symbolic in nature and isn't likely to impact the competition or the related pageantry. Government leaders and other dignitaries are typically invited to the Summer and Winter Games at the behest of the organizers. They generally sit in private sections removed from the others in attendance. On some occasions, delegations include presidents or heads of state, but countries are often represented by ambassadors, presidential family members and other elected leaders.
The Tokyo Summer Olympics were closed to spectators but diplomatic representatives and dignitaries were allowed in the venues. The scaled-back U.S. contingent was led by Jill Biden, the first lady; 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.
President Donald Trump stayed home during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics but sent a delegation that included Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump. Several U.S. presidents have also attended the Summer and Winter Olympics. President Barack Obama traveled to the 2012 Games in London and President George W. Bush attended the 2006 Games in Torino.