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US won’t send officials to Beijing Olympics over rights ‘atrocities’

Washington – The United States said on Monday it will not send government officials to the 2022 Winter Olympics due to China’s human rights “atrocities,” after Beijing pledged 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 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.

“US 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 the US Congress 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 per cent as we cheer them on from home.”

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing earlier in Beijing that those calling for a boycott are “grandstanding” and should stop “so as not to affect the dialogue and cooperation between China and the United States in important areas.”

“If the US insists in wilfully clinging to its course, China will take resolute countermeasures,” he said, without elaborating.

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

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

‘Excited and ready’

Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement following the boycott announcement that Team USA was “excited and ready to make the nation proud.”

“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,” she said.

China plans to limit spectator attendance at the February Games, citing strict Covid-19 protocols. Chinese state media have said Beijing does not intend to invite Western politicians who have threatened a boycott.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the only leader of a major country who has accepted China’s invitation to attend.

Human rights groups welcomed the boycott, but said Washington could do more to hold China accountable.

“The US 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,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in an email.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States has been consulting with allies and partners on a “shared approach” to the Beijing Games in light of their concerns about China’s human rights record.

Psaki said the United States had told its allies of the decision, but that it was up to them to decide if they also want to boycott.

Other countries, including Australia and Britain, are reported to be considering their own boycotts.

Stefano Sannino, chief of the European Union’s diplomatic service, said on Friday after meetings with US officials in Washington that it was important to keep up pressure on China over abuses in Xinjiang, but that any boycott was in the domain of individual member states, not common EU foreign policy. —  Reuters

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