US reportedly plans diplomatic boycott of China’s Winter Olympics

The US is going to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China and will not send an official delegation in protest against human rights abuses, according to a report on Tuesday.

The report comes the day after a virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, in which multiple policy issues were raised but the Olympics were not mentioned, despite some earlier reports that Xi would deliver an invitation to the games.

According to the Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, who writes extensively about China policy, a formal recommendation for a diplomatic boycott has been presented to Biden and he is expected to approve it before the end of the month, just over two months before the games are due to begin in February 2022.

Under such a diplomatic boycott, US athletes would take part as normal, but there would be no accompanying political delegation of officials and politicians.

Asked for comment, a senior administration official said: “We don’t have any official update on the US position.” Andrew Bates, the deputy White House spokesman said only that the Olympics had not been “part of their conversation” at the Biden-Xi summit.

The Biden administration has upheld its predecessor’s determination that China’s mass incarceration and forced sterilisation of its Muslim Uyghur population constitutes genocide. It has also been critical of the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and repressive measures in Tibet.

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that Biden raised human rights abuses in his summit with Xi.

“President Biden is always going to be Joe Biden. He is going to be direct and straightforward. And he’s not going to sand down the edges of direct messages on hard issues,” Sullivan told a Brookings Institution video conference assessing the summit on Tuesday.

Leading Democratic and Republican figures have called for a diplomatic boycott that would send a message of disapproval but would not affect US athletes.

The Biden administration will inform allies of its boycott but would leave it to them to make their own decisions.

Michael Mazza, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that the US and its allies should have pushed much earlier for the Winter Olympics to be taken away from China and held elsewhere. He said that simply refusing to send dignitaries and officials would have no impact on China’s human rights abuses.

“We’re now faced with suboptimal options. The one the White House settled on may make us feel good about ourselves, but it shouldn’t. A diplomatic boycott will do little to actually help Uyghurs and other victims of abuses,” Mazza said.

He argued a better option would be to send a delegation with the mission of highlighting the plight of the Uyghurs and other victims.

“They would be talking to the press every day about what they’re seeing in China,” Mazza said. “There’s a risk here that, if the United States tried to send a delegation like that, China doesn’t let them into the country. And I say make them do that quite publicly.”

In his assessment of the summit, Sullivan suggested the two leaders had agreed in principle to authorise discussions by their officials on major global issues, to reduce risks of misunderstanding and miscalculation. One of those issues would be the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

“President Biden did raise with President Xi the need for a strategic stability set of conversations around [nuclear weapons],” Sullivan said. “That needs to be guided by the leaders and led by senior empowered teams on both sides that cut across security, technology and diplomacy. And the two leaders agreed that we would look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability.”