China vows retaliation for U.S. Olympic diplomatic boycott


Beijing (Reuters) – The United States has betrayed Olympic principles and will have to “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, China said on Dec 7, as key Western allies hesitated in deciding whether to follow the U.S. lead.

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 groups, comes despite an effort to stabilise ties between the world’s two largest economies, 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 media briefing in Beijing, host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics, on Dec 7.

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

It was not immediately clear 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, the Netherlands and Japan said they were 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.

‘Keep Politics out of Sports’

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.

Olympic Charter

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has long been criticised for awarding the Games to China despite calls from human rights groups and activists to move them from Beijing.

But IOC President Thomas Bach said the Games could not be expected to solve longstanding political problems that politicians themselves have failed to clear up.

“What is our responsibility and what are our limits?,” Bach told German news agency DPA shortly before the U.S. decision on Monday. “Our responsibility is to run the Games in accordance with the Olympic Charter.” 

George W. Bush was the last U.S. president to attend a Games opening ceremony, as host at Salt Lake City in 2004.

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

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

“It would have been a non-story if let alone,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of sport management at 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 said the government would not dictate private sector practices, but said firms should be “fully cognizant” of events in Xinjiang. read more

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

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