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Promoting respect for human rights behind US 'diplomatic boycott' of Beijing Olympics

This combined photo shows U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Mainichi)

The U.S. administration under President Joe Biden has decided on a "diplomatic boycott" of the Beijing Olympics in February 2022, which China has strongly opposed of and deemed as a political use of sports. Contrary to it being touted "a festival of peace," the Olympics is once again caught up in political conflict, this time amid U.S.-China tensions.

    U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price in a Dec. 6 Department Press Briefing called for raised awareness about human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China among international society, and said, "When the United States speaks, when the United States takes action, the world listens."

    The Biden administration has in mind the "Summit for Democracy," which will be held online on Dec. 9 and 10. Some 110 countries and regions around the world invited to the summit will discuss how to protect and promote democracy from forces deemed as tyrannies. It also has the aim to unite countries and regions that share democratic values to counter China -- which was not invited and strongly opposes the event.

    One of the main themes is "promoting respect for human rights." By declaring a diplomatic boycott before the event, the U.S. government has reaffirmed its diplomatic stance of emphasizing human rights. As participating countries and regions announce their respective efforts at the summit, the U.S. expects some nations will follow suit and increase international pressure on China.

    While Price told reporters, "When it comes to representation at the Games, this is a sovereign decision that each country needs to make," he also added, "We fully expect that other countries will announce their decision in the coming days and weeks."

    Behind the Biden administration's move are the intentions of the U.S. Congress. As both the ruling and opposition parties have shared serious concerns about human rights issues in China and urge a diplomatic boycott, there were many voices in the Congress welcoming the decision.

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez commented, "I applaud the Biden administration for forcefully underscoring that the preservation of human rights is still a foundational pillar of American foreign policy." He added, "I also call on other allies and partners that share our values to join with the United States in this diplomatic boycott."

    Meanwhile, some Republican legislators have said that the move is not enough. Republican Senator Tom Cotton called it a "half measure" and urged for a stronger response by pulling athletes out of the Games, saying, "The United States should fully boycott the Genocide Games in Beijing."

    The Biden administration is also exploring ways to cooperate with China on common issues such as climate change, and its real intention is to avoid causing a decisive conflict from a full boycott that restricts U.S. athletes' participation. Furthermore, if a full boycott is implemented, there is a risk that the U.S. will be met with criticism from countries other than China. The only realistic option the U.S. had was a diplomatic boycott.

    On the other hand, China is maintaining a bullish tone with Liu Pengyu, spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. tweeting on Dec. 7, "Politicians calling for (a) boycott (of the) 2022 Beijing Olympics 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 Beijing 2022 to be successfully held."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in February next year. China seems to think that it's enough for leaders from a small number of closely related countries to come to the Games.

    (Japanese original by Issei Suzuki, Washington Bureau, and Koichi Yonemura, China General Bureau)

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