The USA has announced it will not send any government officials to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, after China pledged unspecified "countermeasures" against any such diplomatic boycott.
President Joe Biden revealed last month that he was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games amid criticism of China's human rights record, including what Washington says is genocide against minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.
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On Monday it was confirmed that the US is following through with the boycott.
"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 diplomatic boycott has been encouraged by some members of the US Congress for months.
It is only a boycott for diplomatic purposes and will not affect the attendance of American athletes.
"The athletes on Team USA have our full support," Psaki said.
"We will be behind them 100 per cent as we cheer them on from home."
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.
A coalition of 180 human rights groups has also been calling for a boycott for months, “to ensure the Olympics are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.”
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Yahoo Sports in February: “The key here is to not give the Chinese government any particular legitimacy around this event.”
On Monday, Richardson applauded the White House's move as "a crucial step toward challenging the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities.
"But this shouldn’t be the only action," she continued.
"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.”
How will China respond to America's diplomatic boycott?
The United States is next due to host an Olympics in 2028 in Los Angeles, raising the question of how China might respond.
Beijing says it opposes the politicisation 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.
Chinese officials point out that they have received more than 1500 applications from the US Olympic Committee, which is responsible for submitting names of US athletes to attend the Winter Games, set for February.
Nonetheless, they cite strict Covid-19 restrictions for plans to limit spectator attendance, and 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.
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.
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 members states, not common EU foreign policy.
The Winter Olympics are due to run from February 4-20.
A diplomatic boycott of the #Olympics is not enough. The CCP doesn’t give a rip about a diplomatic boycott, because at the end of the day, they are still hosting the world’s athletes. Joe Biden needs to stand up to the CCP. #BoycottBeijingOlympics
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) December 6, 2021
The Chinese government threatens "countermeasures" if US plans proceed for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. How about the countermeasure of releasing one million Uyghur/Turkic Muslims from detention. That would help curb the pressure. https://t.co/DiOJEHFQhV pic.twitter.com/WZfdHqnXSs
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) December 6, 2021
A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is a joke. China doesn’t care if Biden and Team show up. They want our athletes.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) December 6, 2021
A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is window dressing. A total boycott of the Olympics is leadership.https://t.co/TCEVJizprA
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) December 6, 2021
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