China on Tuesday accused the US of betraying Olympic principles and said Washington will “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing even as a top International Olympic Committee official voiced respect for the US decision.
The White House announced on Monday that US government officials will boycott the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities”, though the action allows American athletes to travel to Beijing to compete. Key US allies have hesitated to join the action.
President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the US calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China denies all rights abuses.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing that his country opposes the US diplomatic boycott and promised “resolute countermeasures” in response.
“The US will pay a price for its mistaken acts,” he said, without giving details. “Let’s all wait and see.”
The IOC, the governing body of the worldwide Olympic movement, held executive board meetings on Tuesday at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of the Winter Games scheduled for Feb 4-20 in Beijing.
“We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC’s coordination commission chief for the Beijing Olympics. “We have to be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”
The Winter Games are due to begin about six months after the conclusion of the Summer Games in Tokyo that were delayed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are extremely proud, happy and hopeful that all athletes of the world will live in peace in 59 days,” Samaranch said, referring the scheduled start of the Winter Games.
The US 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 US, Zhao said the US boycott has “damaged the foundation and atmosphere” of sports exchange and cooperation on the Olympics, which he likened to “lifting a stone to crush one’s own foot”.
He called on the US to keep politics out of sports, saying the boycott went against Olympic principles.
The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the US 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 Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.
It was not immediately clear if other nations would join the US. A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US consulted a broad range of allies and partners before announcing the decision but is not coordinating a global boycott campaign.
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the US, told a US congressional hearing on Tuesday that unless other countries join the boycott it would undermine the message that China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable.
“Now I think the only option really that is available to us is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser said.
Canada’s foreign ministry said on Monday it continues to discuss the matter with partners and allies.
Australia, Britain, the Netherlands and Japan said they were still considering their positions. New Zealand’s deputy prime minister said the country would not send government officials but that decision was based largely on Covid-19 concerns.
Chinese media and scholars criticised the US action.
“It is foolish and silly of the US 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 US in 2028.
Some political analysts said the US diplomatic boycott is less a threat to the Games and more of an issue of appearances that was fuelled by Beijing threatening unspecified 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 in Washington. “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 causes less concern than a full measure barring athletes, said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals.
A spokesperson for Comcast-owned NBCUniversal said it will broadcast the Games as planned.