BEIJING: China warned on Tuesday the United States would “pay the price” for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights concerns.
The US move — which stopped short of preventing athletes from attending — comes after Washington spent months wrangling over what position to take on the Games beginning in February next year over what it has termed China’s “genocide” of the Uyghur minority.
The move drew fiery opposition from Beijing, which threatened unspecified countermeasures, saying the US would “pay the price for its wrongdoing”.
“Stay tuned,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily press briefing. “The US attempt to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics out of ideological prejudice, based on lies and rumours, will only expose (its) sinister intentions,” Zhao said.
“The Winter Olympics are not a stage for political shows and political manipulation,” he added, accusing the US of “actions that interfere in and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
But Washington’s move was broadly welcomed by rights groups and politicians in the US, where President Joe Biden has been under pressure to speak out against Chinese rights abuses.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration would send no diplomatic or official representation to the Games given China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
Sending official representation would signal that the Games were “business as usual,” Psaki said. “And we simply can’t do that.”
“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home,” she added.
The International Olympic Committee called it a “purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.”
The announcement “also makes it clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this,” an IOC spokesperson said.
US-China relations hit a low point under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, with a massive trade war and incendiary debate over how the Covid-19 virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Biden has sought to re-engage with Beijing while at the same time focusing on strengthening traditional US alliances to counter China’s growing economic clout and military presence across the Indo-Pacific region.
The Olympics boycott is part of a complex diplomatic balancing act. Biden’s administration has left Trump-era trade tariffs on China in place and continues to order naval patrols through sensitive international sea lanes that China is accused of trying to bring under its control.
However, with Biden also emphasising the need for dialogue, critics on the right say he is being too soft. This makes the looming Olympic Games a political flashpoint.