By Lauren Hogan
Starting out as a festive celebration, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has since taken a sharp political turn, as countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia have announced a diplomatic boycott of all Olympic events. The White House stated on December 6 that no official US delegation would be sent to the Games due to concerns about “China’s human rights record.” Nevertheless, President Biden assured that US athletes who attended the Games would have the US government’s full support.
In practice, a diplomatic boycott includes a variety of factors and limitations. The most important aspect lies in government officials not being able to attend the Olympic Games, an event that is often attended by high-ranking officials from all over the world. The US said the diplomatic boycott was to protest human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Last year, the U.S. called the CCP’s actions against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, which include mass internment and forced sterilization, “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The diplomatic boycott also came on the heels of the Women’s Tennis Association suspending all tournaments in China and Hong Kong over the treatment of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai; Shuai accused China’s former vice-premier of sexual assault and was not seen for weeks after speaking out (ABC News).
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all Americans say they approve of the diplomatic boycott. However, many Chinese people have protested against the boycotts, calling them “futile” and “ineffective.” After the U.S. announced the diplomatic boycott, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter: “In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held.” China has also called Washington’s move a “self-directed political farce.” “The US just wants to politicize sports, create divisions and provoke a confrontation,” said the Spokesperson of the Chinese Mission to the UN in a statement.
So far, five other countries have announced a similar diplomatic boycott. Beijing has repeatedly blasted any talk of a boycott, denouncing it as an affront to the “Olympic spirit,” while denying any wrongdoing in its human rights record (New York Times). Before the boycott, President Biden tried to stabilize relations between the U.S. and China, which have nosedived in recent years as Washington has grown increasingly concerned about Chinese aggression. He and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a meeting last month via video teleconference, marking small progress on issues like China’s travel bans on dual citizens and journalists.
Nevertheless, tensions have remained high from China’s development of hypersonic and nuclear weapons, its menacing of Taiwan, and its human rights record, to its poor treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province (ABC News). The detention of over one million Uyghurs and the sterilization of Uyghur women in these camps have drawn U.S. sanctions and international condemnation.
Some say that just talking about any kind of boycott in connection to the Olympic Games may raise visibility of China’s atrocities, which would be a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. The diplomatic boycott may also put pressure on sports bodies– in this case, the International Olympic Committee– to rethink where the Olympics are held in the future.