Activists have been demanding a boycott for months over concerns about China's human rights record [File: Frederic J Brown/AFP]
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

■ Washington’s move is aimed at pressuring China’s over alleged rights abuses, while UK says it will consider boycott in due course ■

(AL JAZEERA) — The United States has announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s “egregious” rights abuses, a move the Chinese government has said would be met with “resolute countermeasures”.

The White House on Monday said the US would not send an official delegation to the games in protest against Chinese human rights abuses, including Beijing’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in its western Xinjiang region.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the [People’s Republic of China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“US diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual … and we simply can’t do that,” she said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington described the US boycott as “political manipulation”.

“No invitation has been extended to US politicians whatsoever, so this ‘diplomatic boycott’ simply comes out of nowhere,” embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told the Reuters news agency in an emailed statement.

“Such a pretentious act is only a political manipulation and a grave distortion of the spirit of the Olympic Charter,” he said.

A woman stands outside the headquarters of the organising committee for the Winter Games [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

On Tuesday, the UK said it would consider whether to impose its own boycott at a later date.

“I was asked whether I will go. I will not go and we’ll consider that (the level of wider representation) in due course,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.

Psaki said the US boycott, which has been encouraged by some Congress members for months, would not affect the attendance of American athletes, who have the “full support” of the Biden administration.

The move comes before US President Joe Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” on Thursday and Friday, a virtual gathering of leaders and civil society actors from more than 100 countries.

Biden will use the gathering “to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad”, US officials have said.

Einar Tangen, a political analyst in Beijing, dismissed the US boycott.

“It will accomplish nothing except breeding bad blood between two nations who need to come together to deal with the world’s problems,” he told Al Jazeera.

The US-China relationship has been strained in recent years over issues including Taiwan, Hong Kong and China’s treatment of the Uighurs, but Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed their close ties during a virtual call last month.

‘Crucial step’

Activists demonstrate outside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, in October to call on G20 leaders to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

China rejects international criticism and sanctions over the situation in Xinjiang, where the United Nations and rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, called the US move a “crucial step”.

“But this shouldn’t be the only action,” Richardson tweeted. “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.”

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 pressure China over abuses in Xinjiang, but that any boycott was up to individual member states, not common EU foreign policy.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that it respected the US government’s decision.

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 Tuesday, New Zealand announced it would not be sending diplomatic representatives at a ministerial level to the event, citing COVID-19.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the move was not due to the US decision, but emphasised that New Zealand had raised its human rights concerns with China previously.