U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 Olympics

Foreign Affairs

Team USA will compete in the Winter Olympics in China, but the Biden administration will not send any officials to Beijing in protest of human rights abuses, particularly in Xinjiang. China called the move a “blatant political provocation.”

Beijing Olympics boycott
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

The White House confirmed today that the U.S. will stage a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are due to start in Beijing in less than two months on February 4.

  • “The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
  • The move was made to protest human rights abuses, including China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Psaki added. “We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”
  • Team USA is still set to participate in the Games, and the U.S. government is not supposed to make a decision for athletes anyway. “The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, an independent nonprofit organization, has sole authority to make the final call,” the Washington Post notes.
  • The U.S. Olympic Committee takes a firm stance against athlete boycotts, per the Wall Street Journal, and has “repeatedly called for full boycotts to be left as a relic of the 1980s, when the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow altered the lives of hundreds of athletes who were denied a competitive opportunity to which they had dedicated years of training.”

China’s response: You weren’t invited anyway

The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the significance of American politicians boycotting the Winter Olympics. “U.S. politicians keep hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games,” spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 said today (in English, Chinese) in response to reports that a boycott announcement was imminent.

  • Zhao called the move “pure grandstanding” and a “blatant political provocation,” and suggested that it would “affect bilateral dialogue and cooperation in important areas.”

Will other countries follow?

Several other countries appear to be considering following the U.S. with their own diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, though none have made a formal announcement yet.

  • Australia was “considering those matters and working through those issues,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on December 3, though the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Government MPs “said the U.S. announcement would tip the government in favour of a formal diplomatic boycott.”
  • In Canada, “All three official opposition parties are pressuring the Liberal government to diminish Canada’s presence” in the Games, The Star reports, and Canada’s foreign affairs department reiterated today that it is “deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China.”
  • 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, U.S., Australia, and Canada, “opted not to sign on to a U.N. General Assembly resolution, commonly referred to as the Olympic Truce, that was co-sponsored by more than 170 other states,” on December 2, the Globe and Mail reports.
  • The European Union today extended its sanctions on Chinese officials for abuses in Xinjiang, but European “governments and the EU are reluctant to commit” to a formal boycott of any kind, the South China Morning Post reports.

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