21 May 2024

BEIJING, Dec 7 (Reuters) – The United States will have to “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China said on Tuesday, just weeks after talks aimed at easing tense relations between the two sides.

The White House said on Monday U.S. government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities”, although U.S. athletes were free to travel there to compete.

The U.S. boycott, encouraged for months by some members of Congress and rights advocacy groups, comes despite an effort to stabilise ties, with a video meeting last month between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.

China opposes the boycott and would take “resolute countermeasures”, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular media briefing in Beijing, host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics, on Tuesday.

“The United States will pay a price for its mistaken acts,” he said, without giving details. “Let’s all wait and see.”

The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Asked if China would consider a diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games in the United States, Zhao said the U.S boycott had “damaged the foundation and atmosphere” of sports exchange and co-operation on the Games, which he likened to “lifting a stone to crush one’s own foot”.

He called on the United States to keep politics out of sports, saying the boycott went against Olympic principles.

Chinese media and scholars criticised the U.S. decision.

“It is foolish and silly of the United States to do this,” Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters, adding that other major powers could do the same to the United States in 2028.

“For the U.S. politicians, who had not been invited (to the Games) to say they are staging a diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics, that’s just ‘proffering unreciprocated love’,” state news agency Xinhua said in a commentary.

Many Chinese internet users reacted to news of U.S. boycott with expressions of “good riddance”.

“Please don’t come, don’t bring the COVID virus variant here,” a user who calls herself “Thales Beauty” commented online.

Biden’s administration highlighted as the reason for its boycott what Washington calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.

China denies all rights abuses.


“U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we simply can’t do that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support,” Psaki added at a media briefing. “We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home.”

George W. Bush was the last U.S. president to attend a Games opening ceremony, as host at Salt Lake City in 2004. Vice President Mike Pence attended the 2018 Winter Games in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

It was unclear if other nations would join the United States, although U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said allies were consulted on a “shared approach”.

Canada’s foreign ministry said it “remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China” and continues to discuss the matter with partners and allies.

Australia, Britain and Japan have said they are also still considering their positions.

New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, Grant Robertson, said the country would not send government officials but that decision was based largely on COVID-19 concerns and preceded the U.S. boycott.

Last week, Stefano Sannino, chief of the European Union’s diplomatic service, said boycotts were a matter for individual member states, not common EU foreign policy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the only leader of a major country who has accepted an invitation.

Human rights groups welcomed the move, but said Washington could do more to hold China accountable.

However, some political analysts said the boycott was less a threat to the Games and more of an issue of appearances that Beijing fuelled by threatening retaliation.

“It would have been a non-story if let alone,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sport management at the George Washington University School of Business.

“We typically do not send a large government delegation anyway, especially in COVID times.”

The diplomatic boycott puts corporate Olympic sponsors in “an awkward spot” but caused less concern than a full measure barring athletes, said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the government would not dictate private sector practices, but said firms should be “fully cognizant” of events in Xinjiang.

A spokesperson from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal said it would broadcast the Games as planned.