WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that his administration is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Asked by reporters about the possibility of a boycott at a meeting in the Oval Office with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Biden said it was “something we are considering.”
A diplomatic boycott suggests that the U.S. would not send an official government delegation to the Games but would still allow U.S. athletes to compete. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say how Biden defined it.
Human rights advocates have been urging countries to hold China accountable for its record on human rights by skipping the Beijing Olympics, calling them the “genocide games.”
China has been criticized for cracking down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and for detaining and abusing Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang — which the State Department, along with some European counties, has classified as “genocide” — as well as its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan.
“We have serious concerns about the human rights abuses that we’ve seen,” Psaki said.
Chinese government officials have warned of a “robust Chinese response” to any boycotts.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Tuesday that Biden did not raise the possibility of a boycott in a 3½-hour videoconference meeting Monday night with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Rumors had been circulating that Xi would invite Biden to attend the Games in person.
The State Department denied in April that the U.S. and its allies were discussing the possibility of a joint boycott after spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that it was something the U.S. hoped to talk about with its partners and that a “coordinated approach” would be in the U.S. interest.
Some Republican lawmakers, who have grown increasingly hawkish toward China, have been pressuring the Biden administration to boycott the 2022 Games or push for China’s host status to be revoked and for the Games to be moved. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., urged the administration Thursday to boycott the Games, including keeping athletes from competing.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times in March, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arguing for a diplomatic boycott, wrote that “it is increasingly clear that China, under the control of the Chinese Communist Party does not deserve an Olympic showcase.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has also voiced support for a diplomatic boycott.
The International Olympic Committee has said policing host countries’ human rights records is outside its scope. IOC President Thomas Bach argued in a speech last month that the Games should be “respected as politically neutral ground.”
The U.S. led a full boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, barring athletes from participating. The Soviet Union retaliated in 1984, boycotting the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The last full boycott was in 1988, when North Korea and its allies did not attend the Seoul Olympics that summer.
The Beijing Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin Feb. 4, and only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to attend because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and the Winter Olympics.