The Biden administration on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, saying U.S. athletes will compete, but no government officials will go to the Chinese capital for the Winter Games in February.
In a widely expected move that a coalition of critics of Beijing urged other democratic nations to emulate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. dignitaries would shun the games “given ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
Advocates of groups suffering oppression at the hands of China–including Xinjiang’s Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and Chinese dissidents– have long argued against letting Beijing host the Olympics in 2002, 14 years after the Beijing Olympics failed to help improve the country’s rights record.
“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 told reporters.
The U.S. State Department and parliaments in Canada, The Netherlands, the U.K., and Lithuania have determined that China has committed genocide with its policies toward Uyghurs, including the mass incarceration of 1.8 million of the Muslim minorities in political reeducation camps, enforced sterilization of women, and forced labor programs.
Speaking on Monday before the diplomatic boycott was announced, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called it an “outright political provocation” and vowed unspecified countermeasures.
“Without being invited, American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic, which is purely wishful thinking and grandstanding,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
“If the U.S. side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermeasures,” he said.
Hailing Monday’s decision, an umbrella group called the No Beijing 2022 Coalition said the boycott is “a testament to the tireless work of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Southern Mongolians, Taiwanese and Chinese people, among others” who have called for withdrawing support from the Feb. 4-20 Games.
“We are now expecting the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and the European Union to take immediate action and commit to rejecting invitations to the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing 2022 on human rights grounds,” the group said in a statement.
Psaki said U.S. allies were told of Washington’s decision, but will be left to make their own decision on the Olympics.
Uyghur exile groups also urged other countries to follow the U.S.
“All governments should decline to participate in the spectacle of 21st century ‘genocide games,” said the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) in a statement.
“The Chinese government is using the 2022 Winter Games as a showcase for its world leadership. A diplomatic boycott sends a strong signal: governments refuse to give a green light to the Uyghur genocide,” said Omer Kanat, UHRP executive director. He said sponsors of the event should also shun Beijing.
“Other democratic nations should follow the U.S. lead and boycott the Olympics. If the Beijing Olympics were not boycotted by the international community, China would see it as the world rewarding its bad behavior,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress.
The Biden administration decision kicks off a challenging week for China’s reputation in Western countries.
In Washington on Thursday and Friday, President Joe Biden will host more than 100 participants from governments, civil society and the private sector at a virtual Summit for Democracy. China is excluded but Taiwan, a democratic island claimed by Beijing, will attend, as well as representatives of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong exiles.
On Thursday in London, the Uyghur Tribunal will issue a non-binding ruling on whether China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims constitutes genocide. The decision follows dozens of witness accounts from internment camp survivors describing abuses such as systematic rape, other forms of gender-based violence, torture, and killings.
“We reject that there can be a symbol of peace when the camps and surveillance apparatuses there stand as monuments to atrocity. We reject the Olympic games in the midst of a genocide,” said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs.
“This step sends a firm warning to the Chinese state that these rejections are shared by the United States government, and hopefully by other governments as well,” she said.
Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
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