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The ‘diplomatic’ Olympic boycott

Why has the U.S. announced a ‘diplomatic boycott’ of the Beijing Winter Olympics? What has been China’s response?

 

The story so far: On December 6, the U.S. Government said it will not send any official representation to the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, due to start on February 4, 2022, announcing what is being called a “diplomatic boycott” of the games. The decision elicited a strong response from China, which slammed the move as a “political stunt” and said the Olympics “were not a stage for political posturing and manipulation”. The spat over the Winter Olympics is the latest clash between the U.S. and China, adding to a long list of differences on trade, Taiwan, human rights, and the South China Sea.

What does a ‘diplomatic boycott’ of the games mean?

A “diplomatic boycott” means no U.S. official will be present at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. This stops short of a complete boycott, which would have meant the nonparticipation by U.S. athletes. As such, the absence of official representation will not impact the games as much as an athletic boycott would have. Chinese officials, meanwhile, pointed out that they had not invited any U.S. official to attend the opening, saying their “political agenda was doomed to fail”.

THE GIST

  • On December 6, the U.S. Government said it will not send any official representation to the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing announcing what is being called a “diplomatic boycott” of the games. This means that while U.S. athletes will participate in the games, no U.S. official will be present at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the decision was taken because these games, she argued, could not be treated as such because of China’s “human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”.
  • Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have also announced that their officials will not be present at the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has said he will travel to Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics. China has also been garnering support from countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

What led to the U.S. boycott?

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the decision was taken because “U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual”. These games, she argued, could not be treated as such because of China’s “human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”. This isn’t the first U.S. move aimed to highlight Chinese actions in Xinjiang. In March, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned two Chinese Government officials “in connection with serious human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”, where hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Muslim minority, have been sent by Chinese authorities to “reeducation” camps, a network of which were constructed beginning in 2016 to house thousands of detainees. Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, but subsequently claimed the centres were for“vocational training”. Amid a growing outcry from the U.S. and the EU which also announced sanctions, authorities said last year that most of those in the camps had “graduated”. This week, Beijing described U.S. allegations of “genocide” in Xinjiang as “the biggest lie of the century”.

Who else is ‘diplomatically boycotting’ the games?

So far, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have also announced that their officials will not be present at the games. None, however, has said their athletes will not attend, which means the games themselves are unlikely to be impacted. It remains to be seen if the boycott will gain traction beyond U.S. allies and partners. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has said he will travel to Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics, while China has been garnering support from countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A declaration following the November 30 China-Africa foreign ministers’ summit, attended by foreign ministers of China and 53 African countries, said it backed the games and “opposed the politicisation of sports”. Last month, the Russia-India-China (RIC) foreign ministers in New Delhi also voiced support for the games in the statement issued after the meeting.

How is China reacting to the boycott?

On the one hand, Beijing has sought to play down the impact saying the concerned countries were not invited, while on the other, its Foreign Ministry threatened “countermeasures”, as yet unspecified. China’s media, meanwhile, has been largely playing down the reports of the boycotts, underlining how the authorities are going all-out to ensure the games are conducted without a hitch. Beyond the statements decrying “politicisation” of sports, there is certainly a domestic political undercurrent to the games, which are meant to showcase, as with the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China’s strength and re-emergence to a domestic audience, as well as enhance the reputation of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping at home.

What will be the impact on U.S.-China relations?

In a virtual summit last month, the U.S. and Chinese presidents committed to “responsibly” manage their growing competition amid increasing conflicts. At the summit, President Joe Biden called for“common-sense guardrails to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict,” while Mr. Xi emphasised the “need to treat each other as equals” and warned against“drawing ideological lines”, calling on the U.S.“to meet its word of not seeking a ‘new Cold War’”.

The exchange over the Winter Olympics, however, is yet another reminder of the challenge both sides face in doing so, as a clash over ideology and political systems adds to an already long list of differences.

13 Dec 21/Monday                                                                                              Source: Thehindu

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