The U.S. Department of State in a press briefing on Tuesday suggested that the United States was considering, in coordination with our allies, a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, scheduled to take place from February 4 to February 20, 2022.
In response to questions from reporters about the U.S. stance on the Beijing Olympics, department spokesman Ned Price indicated that we were reviewing “those Olympics and our thinking will involve close consultations with partners and allies around the world.”
Calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in protest over China’s persecution of its 12-million person Uighur Muslim minority have grown louder over the last several months. We reported in January that Canadian diplomats had begun calling on their government to boycott the Games. A month later, the Canadian House of Commons voted 266-0 to deem the Chinese treatment of the Uyghur minority group as a genocide under the definition established by the United Nations and formally asked the IOC to change the venue for the 2022 Games. In March, amid mounting support for a boycott, IOC president Thomas Bach rejected calls for countries to withdraw their athletes, arguing that that boycotts don’t work, and that the IOC is not a “supergovernment.”
On March 30, the State Department published its “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)” which concluded that China is committing genocide against its Uyghur Muslims. The Washington Post editorial board called on not just countries to withdraw their athletes, but also on corporations -such as Airbnb, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Visa- to withdraw their sponsorship dollars. “Businesses must say no to enriching themselves by contributing to the glorification of an authoritarian state,” they wrote.
CNBC reported that after the press briefing, the State Department walked back the suggestion that it was coordinating with allies about a possible boycott. “Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” a senior State Department official wrote in an emailed statement to CNBC.
Below is the transcript of the questions from the April 6 press briefing that related specifically to the 2022 Olympic Games:
QUESTION: And on Olympics. With regard to participating in the Beijing Olympics, can you detail how the State Department has been or will be involved in the administration’s decision on that front?
MR PRICE: Well, part of our review of those Olympics and our thinking will involve close consultations with partners and allies around the world. We have consistently said, when it comes to our concerns with the government in Beijing, including Beijing’s egregious human rights violations, its conduct of genocide in the case of Xinjiang, that what the United States does is meaningful, what the United States does will have impact, but everything we do that is – that brings along our allies and partners will have all the more influence with Beijing.
And so that is why the Department of State, as part of our thinking on the Beijing Olympics, is engaging with partners, with allies to coordinate – coordinate closely on decisions and approaches to the government in Beijing. You saw an illustration of that only the other week when the United States, together with United Kingdom, together with Canada, together with the EU, enacted a set of sanctions against those responsible for some of the atrocities in Xinjiang. So clearly, we are coordinating on all of these issues of concern, and, of course, the Beijing Olympics is an area that we will continue to discuss.
QUESTION: And when do you think those discussions will – specifically on the Olympics will be concluded with partners and allies?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, this is – we’re talking about 2022 and we are still in April of 2021. So these games remain some time away. I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it, but these discussions are underway.
QUESTION: And how complicated would U.S.-China diplomacy become if the U.S. decided to boycott the Olympics?
MR PRICE: Again, I wouldn’t want to comment on a hypothetical. We know that when it comes to our engagement with the government in Beijing, the – principally, it is a relationship predicated on competition. There are also adversarial aspects of that relationship. There are also some cooperative aspects of those relationships – of that relationship. Really, all three of those were on display in Anchorage, both in the session that was public as well as in the discussions that were behind closed doors.
But with our approach to Beijing, we will continue to be guided by two things and two things only. Those are our interests, including the interests we share with allies and partners around the world, and our values. And those are the values we share with our allies and many of our closest partners around the world.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Kylie’s question. You seemed to suggest on the Olympics that the U.S. is in consultations with allies discussing whether to consider or plan some sort of joint boycott. Is that the case?
MR PRICE: Well, it is something that we certainly wish to discuss and that it is certainly something that we understand that a coordinated approach will be not only in our interests but also in the interests of our allies and partners. So this is one of the issues that is on the agenda both now and going forward, and when we have something to announce, we will be sure to do that.