US to announce diplomatic boycott on Beijing Winter Olympics

The Biden administration is expected to announce a US diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games this week, a move that will anger the Chinese government and increase the pressure on democracies such as Australia to implement similar boycotts.

Multiple US media outlets, including CNN, reported that the White House is preparing to announce that no American officials will attend the Games next year to protest against human rights violations in China.

President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics this week.Credit:AP

A diplomatic boycott is seen as a compromise position that allows nations to send a message to China while still allowing their athletes to compete in the Games.

Biden confirmed last month that his administration was considering a diplomatic boycott, a move also being weighed up by the Australian government. “We’re considering those matters at the moment and working through those issues,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

Under one scenario, reported by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Australia would not send any government officials – including the ambassador to China – but would decline to publicly call it a boycott.

Sports Minister Richard Colbeck and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne are unlikely to attend the Games, scheduled for February 2022.

Australia and 19 other countries including the United States and Japan last week refused to sign the United Nations Olympics truce to ensure that conflicts do not disrupt the Games.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the 173 other sponsors showed the overwhelming support of a majority of countries “for the Beijing Games and international Olympic Movement”.

Biden’s expected announcement comes in the same week that he will host an online summit of the world’s leading democracies. The leaders of China and Russia have not been invited to the event.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the only world leader who has so far confirmed he will be attending the Games in Beijing in February.

Earlier this year, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a close Biden ally, called for a diplomatic boycott of the Games.

“We cannot proceed as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China,” Pelosi told a House of Representatives hearing on human rights in May. “Silence is inexcusable. It enables China’s abuses.”

Pelosi continued: “For heads of state to go to China, in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats, really begs the question.

“What moral authority do you have to speak about human rights any place in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?”

The boycott campaign, first initiated by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China in September last year, has evolved out of concerns about China’s treatment of Muslim-minority Uighurs, pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, and its military harassment of Taiwan.

The treatment of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accelerated the boycott momentum in November after the Women’s Tennis Association pulled its tournaments out of China and human rights organisations positioned the 35-year-old as the face of Beijing’s human rights abuses.

Peng, a former world doubles number one accused former Chinese vice premier of Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in November. The International Olympic Committee is the only international body that has been able to contact the three-time Olympian since, but it has not addressed the sexual assault claims made by Peng or released a transcript of the video calls.

Zhang Gaoli, the former Chinese vice-premier accused of sexually assaulting Peng Shuai, with IOC President Thomas Bach. Credit:Xinhua

The impasse has fuelled allegations of a conflict of interest. The IOC and its president Thomas Bach dealt closely with Zhang as Beijing’s Olympics minister before his retirement in 2018 and the IOC has a substantial investment in the success of the $15 billion Winter Olympics scheduled to start in Beijing in February.

“The IOC should match the WTA in telling China it will move the 2022 Olympics unless Peng and her family are safe to speak freely, not under duress,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

Word of the Biden administration’s intentions comes a day ahead of a meeting of the top IOC executives in Lausanne where the IOC will be presented with a report on the progress of the Beijing Games. Bach is then set to face questions on the prospect of a diplomatic boycott which he has always maintained was a matter for governments.

“We are not a super world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the UN Security Council, nor the G7, nor G20 has a solution,” Bach said in March.

Bach told the UN on Friday that respecting peaceful competition was “even more relevant in our polarised world today”.

“We can only accomplish this mission if the Olympic Games stand above and beyond all political, cultural and other differences,” he said. “This is only possible if the Olympic Games are politically neutral and do not become a tool to achieve political goals.”

China will implement a COVID-bubble for the Olympics with tight restrictions on freedom of movement and travel to Beijing, making it difficult for foreign leaders or ministers to attend the Games, regardless of the boycott, and limiting the domestic impact of the diplomatic snub.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week the US and its allies were conducting a smear campaign and had violated the Olympic charter by politicising the Games.

“A successful and splendid Games relies on the concerted efforts of the big Winter Olympics family, not on the attendance of a handful of countries’ government officials,” he said. “We hope certain countries can avoid overplaying their hands.”

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