China, hosts of next year’s Winter Olympics, has warned the United States not to boycott the event as the Biden administration works to rally support to put pressure on Beijing over its human rights record.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, rejected accusations of abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region, warning of an unspecified “robust Chinese response” to a potential Olympics boycott.
“The politicisation of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” Lijian said. “The international community including the US Olympic Committee will not accept it.”
Following initial reports over the possibility of an Olympic boycott, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made clear on Wednesday that such an option was not being discussed.
“We have not discussed, and are not discussing, any joint boycott with allies and partners,” Psaki said.
The International Olympic Committee and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee have said in the past they oppose boycotts.
“We at the USOPC oppose athlete boycotts because they’ve been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues in the past,” said Susanne Lyons, chair of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee board of directors.
The committee does not wish to “minimise the serious human rights issues that are happening in China” but believes diplomats and trade and other government officials are better equipped to address such concerns and “young athletes should be used as political pawns in these issues”.
Human rights groups are mounting international pressure against China’s hosting the games to draw attention to Beijing abuses against Uighurs, Tibetans and residents of Hong Kong.
In late March, the US, Canada and the UK joined the EU to take what they described as “coordinated action” against China to send “a clear message about the human rights violations and abuses” in Xinjiang – a region populated by the Muslim Uighur minority.
The sanctions blacklisted former and current officials in the Xinjiang region for alleged abuses, which have sparked international outrage.
A week later, the US State Department released its 2020 human rights report accusing China of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uighur.
The United Nations has said more than one million Uighur and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking residents of the northwestern region have been held in a network of camps that China has called vocational skills training centres in recent years.
China has denied the allegations.
Rights groups said they have also been subjected to other abuses including restrictions on freedom of religion including being forced to eat pork.