China has issued a stern warning to the United States over its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, insisting the Americans will "pay the price" if the follow through with the proposal.
The USA this week announced that it will not send any government officials to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, in protest against China's human rights record.
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It also emerged on Tuesday that the Australian government was seriously considering following America's lead by refusing to send diplomats to next year's Winter Games in the Chinese capital.
President Joe Biden's government has hit out at China, citing reports of 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."
The US move - which has stopped short of preventing athletes from attending the Games - has drawn fiery opposition from Beijing, which threatened unspecified countermeasures against the USA in response.
"Stay tuned," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily press briefing.
"The US attempt to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics out of ideological prejudice, based on lies and rumours, will only expose (its) sinister intentions," Zhao said.
"The Winter Olympics are not a stage for political shows and political manipulation," he added, accusing the US of "actions that interfere in and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics."
Washington's move has been broadly welcomed by rights groups and politicians in the USA, where President Biden has been under pressure to speak out against Chinese rights abuses.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration would send no diplomatic or official representation to the Games given China's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses."
Sending official representation would signal that the Games were "business as usual," Psaki said. "And we simply can't do that."
"The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home," she added.
The International Olympic Committee called it a "purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects."
The announcement "also makes it clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this," an IOC spokesperson said.
Russia - whose predecessor state the USSR was subject to a full boycott of the Olympics by the United States in 1980 following its invasion of Afghanistan - slammed the decision.
"Our position is that the Olympic Games should be free of politics," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, but said it was positive that participants were not impacted by the decision.
China's human rights record under scrutiny
Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.
The Beijing Olympics have also been overshadowed by sexual assault accusations made by former tennis star Peng Shuai against a retired top Communist Party politician.
The three-time Olympian was not heard from for nearly three weeks before re-emerging, after her claims were rapidly censored.
Coming just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games, the Winter Olympics will be held from February 4 to 20 in a "closed loop" bubble because of Covid-19 restrictions.
On the streets of Beijing, residents told AFP that they didn't agree with the US move.
"Sports is sports. How is it connected to politics? Besides, should political standards be set by the US? Does whatever standard you say become the de facto standard?" said a 72-year-old retired teacher, who gave her surname as Wang.
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