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U.S., China squabble

over whether lower-level officials attending Olympics constitutes ‘diplomatic boycott’

by Eva Dou


U.S. officials said that Washington’s “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics will remain in place, with no high-level official spectators, though there are plans to send consular and diplomatic security support staff.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday had derided the boycott as a “farce," saying it had received visa applications from U.S. personnel for the 2022 Winter Games, which kick off Feb. 4. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a statement Tuesday there will be no "diplomatic or official representation given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.”

© Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images People walk past Olympics signage in Beijing last week.

Some consular and security officers will go to assist athletes and coaches, the spokesperson said, adding that any visa applications would be for these personnel. “It is standard to have those personnel on the ground, and those personnel do not constitute official or diplomatic representation at the Games.”

The absence of high-level U.S. officials is largely symbolic and doesn’t affect the ability of American athletes to compete in the Olympics. But it does reflect the testy relations between Washington and Beijing. When China hosted the 2008 Olympics at a time of warmer ties, president George W. Bush attended and called it a “very uplifting experience.”

Washington’s snub of the Games is a sore point for Chinese officials, who say no human rights violations have taken place in Xinjiang or elsewhere in the country. U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain and Japan have followed Washington’s lead, saying they also will not send government delegations.

Chinese officials have criticized the absence of officials as an example of American political manipulation. They also say that there can’t be a U.S. boycott because Washington hasn’t been invited. “One can’t decline an invitation without first receiving one,” China Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying tweeted earlier this month.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing that Beijing had received visa applications from U.S. personnel.

“Now with regard to the US request to send a team of government officials to China and their visa applications, the Chinese side will handle them in accordance with international customary practice, relevant regulations and the principle of reciprocity,” he said.

Human rights conditions in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region remain a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations, with President Biden signing into law last week legislation banning imports from the region unless the importer can prove they were not made with forced labor.

Uyghurs in the region have alleged they were forced to work in factories on threat of detention, as part of a sweeping reeducation campaign targeting the minority group.

Xinjiang authorities say all residents of the region work voluntarily. The United States, as well as several European legislatures, has declared China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims to be a genocide.

U.S. chipmaker Intel apologized on Thursday for asking suppliers to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang, after it became the latest target of fury from Chinese state media and Internet users.

China has been preparing for months to put its best foot forward for the Olympics, including plans to ensure blue skies by suspending factory production across the country’s northeast. Athletes, coaches and others arriving for the Games will be kept in a “closed-loop management system” for pandemic prevention, a bubble that keeps them separated from the rest of the country.


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