2022 Winter Olympics: Diplomatic Boycotts Mar Games

Updated January 31, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

The rivalry between China and the US heats up for Winter 2022

Xi Jinping
Source: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

President Xi Jinping of China is the focus of international scrutiny.

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U.S. declares a diplomatic boycott

Over the course of 2021, some members of the U.S. government (including Utah senator Mitt Romney) began raising the issue of China's human rights abuses in the context of U.S. participation in the Beijing Olympics. Some called, like Tom Cotton, called for a complete boycott which would bar any American citizen or corporation from participating in the Olympics. To varying degrees this call was echoed in other countries. Most notably the European Parliament voted in favor of a diplomatic boycott from EU officials.

In November, the U.S. began to seriously consider the action, going on record about discussions to that effect. After this news broke, Lithuania became the first nation to officially boycott in any capacity. Then, in December 2021, the Biden Administration declared its intention to begin a partial boycott; no U.S. officials would be sent or permitted to attend in any official capacity. However, the administration did not bar athletes from competing, claiming it would be unfair to those who have been training for the games.

Shortly after the U.S. declared its official boycott, other Western powers began following suit. Australia was the first to do so, joined shortly after by the United Kingdom and Canada. Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands all separately announced boycotts afterwards. Japan, a U.S. ally, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) also joined the growing group of boycotters.

China fires back

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, issued a scathing response to the boycott. China accused the U.S. of politicizing sports and disrupting the Olympics "out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors," according to the Associated Press. Zhao stated:

"[The boycott] seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto 'more united' ... The U.S. will pay a price for its practices. You may stay tuned for follow-ups."

The Foreign Ministry invoked the tensions between the US and China by accusing the US of sabotaging their efforts for cooperation between the two countries. They accused American politicians of exhibiting a Cold War-era mentality that undermined the essence of the Olympics and of international cooperation. Zhao alluded to firm countermeasures to be deployed by China in response, but made no elaboration as to what was intended.

NGOs weigh in

Amnesty International was one of several NGOs to pile on to the growing boycott movement, calling out China's leadership for attempting to "sportswash" their human rights record before the global community. In their estimation, China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics offered a screen behind which they got away without making any improvements to their human rights record. 2022 would be another opportunity to do the same. Amnesty rebuked the International Olympic Committee for its neutrality in the face of problems with China, including the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai.

In a similar vein to Amnesty's call for increased scrutiny, officials from the United States are lobbying for the UN to release an official report about the alleged genocide of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Province. Although unlikely, human rights advocates wish for this to be done before the Olympic Games begin and potentially bury the news.

More about the 2022 Winter Olympics
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