China says US diplomatic boycott violates Olympic spirit

BEIJING (AP) – China yesterday accused the United States (US) of violating the Olympic spirit by announcing an American diplomatic boycott of February’s Beijing Winter Games, amid an increasingly bitter feud over the Biden administration’s decision not to send officials over human rights concerns.

The US is attempting to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics “out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumours”, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing.

The boycott “seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto ‘more united’,” Zhao said.

As he did the previous day, Zhao vowed that China would respond with “resolute countermeasures” but offered no details.

“The US will pay a price for its practices. You may stay tuned for follow-ups,” Zhao said.

His comments came amid a barrage of Chinese criticism of the announcement by the Biden administration on Monday.

A woman takes photos near the logos for the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics yesterday. PHOTO: AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the administration will fully support US athletes competing at the games but won’t dispatch US diplomats or officials to attend.

Psaki said the US has a “fundamental commitment to promoting human rights” and that the US “will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games”.

The diplomatic boycott comes as the US attempts to stabilise turbulent relations with Beijing.

Beijing has counterattacked against US criticisms and punitive sanctions, denouncing them as interference in its internal affairs and slapping visa bans on American politicians it regards as anti-China.

Zhao called on the US to “stop politicising sports” and what he said were actions undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, “otherwise it will undermine the dialogue and cooperation between the two countries in a series of important areas and international issues”.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington tweeted that politicians calling for a boycott are “doing so for their own political interests and posturing.”

“In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held,” the embassy said.

China’s mission to the United Nations called the boycott a “self-directed political farce”.

“The US just wants to politicise sports, create divisions and provoke confrontation,” it said.

Even the ruling Communist Party’s notoriously opaque Central Commission for Discipline Inspection issued a response in the form of a lengthy screed on its website entitled ‘The Spirit of the Olympic Charter Cannot be Tarnished’.

“Some Western anti-China politicians” have shown a “defensive Cold War mentality aimed at politicising sport”, the article said, calling that a “clear violation of the Olympic spirit and a challenge to all people who love the Olympic movement”.

It wasn’t clear what officials Washington might have sent, and Zhao on Monday said no invitation had been extended by China.

Other major countries have yet to say if they will follow the US lead. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday said Japan would make its own decision “from the perspective of national interests, taking into consideration the significance of the Olympic Games and the significance of Japan’s diplomacy. This is the basic attitude of our country”.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said it remained unclear what the diplomatic boycott means and that a decision on officials attending would be made “at an appropriate time”.

“In any case, Japan hopes that the Beijing Winter Games will be held as a celebration of peace in line with the principles of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Matsuno said.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said the ministry had no comment on a “diplomatic decision made by the government of another country”, and has not received any request from the US that it not send officials.

South Korea hopes the Beijing Olympics will “contribute to peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world and help improve relations between South and North Korea”, Choi said.

New Zealand said yesterday it won’t be attending the games at a diplomatic level, but that it made the decision earlier due mostly to pandemic travel restrictions.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said New Zealand told China in October about its plans not to send government ministers.

“But we’ve made clear to China on numerous occasions our concerns about human rights issues,” Robertson said, adding that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had raised those concerns directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Australia, whose relations with China have grown increasingly tense, has yet to say whether it will send dignitaries.

The dispatching of high-level delegations to each Olympics has long been a tradition among the US and other leading nations. Then-President George W Bush attended the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games. First lady Jill Biden led the American contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year and second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.