The US diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics was the right call


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James Galan

President Joe Biden’s administration recently announced that it will not send an official United States delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This announcement came as pressure mounted to hold China responsible for its many human rights violations in East Asia.

While there are no precise details on how the boycott will work, it will ensure government officials do not attend the games, but American athletes will still be able to compete.

The Biden administration’s decision to refrain from sending any official United States delegation to Beijing encourages other countries to also protest China’s human rights violations while still allowing their athletes to perform.

On Nov. 18, a reporter asked Biden about the possibility of the boycott during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “It was something we were thinking about,” Biden said.

Biden’s remark came after a slew of reports detailing various atrocities committed by the Chinese government in recent years. Most of these reports have focused on the Chinese government’s targeting of ethnic minorities and their tightening of freespeech laws in Hong Kong.

Perhaps the greatest reason for supporting a diplomatic boycott came from China’s recent crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. This autonomous territory lies in northwestern China, where it shares a border with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It’s also home to predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, which account for nearly half of the region’s 25 million people. The largest of these groups are the Uyghurs, who speak the Turkish language and have long-faced discrimination and persecution for their culture.

Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other groups in government-run detention centers, according to The New York Times, Chinese government officials have stated the detentions are in response to  groups resistant to Chinese rule in the region.

However, documents show the detainees are also subject to forced labor and hours of indoctrination or interrogation. It is widely believed the conditions in these camps are specifically designed to make people into loyal supporters of the Chinese government.

Regardless of the reasons behind the detentions, a diplomatic boycott has the potential to draw global attention to this issue. Moreover, it may force the Chinese government to reevaluate its position on the detentions.

Additionally, support for a diplomatic boycott has not only been building in  different nations but from both Democrats and Republicans too.

“Limiting a boycott to government officials can be a way to send a message to the leaders of the host country while also allowing athletes to compete and protest oppression on the global stage,” Sen. Mitt Romney wrote in an editorial on the 2022 Olympics.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for Biden to withhold government officials from attending, and in a separate statement said she was in favor of American athletes being allowed to compete.

It is no secret that in Washington, D.C., bipartisanship has been in short supply.

A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, on the other hand, appears to be gaining traction on both sides of the political aisle. As a result, supporting the boycott may serve as a springboard for greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.

Yet, despite the growing popularity of a diplomatic boycott, many strongly oppose the idea.

“[Boycotts] have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues,” spokesperson Kate Hartman said in a statement for the U.S. Olympics & Paralympic Committee.

Hartman’s statement echoes the opposition’s claim that a boycott will do little to resolve global issues and instead have repercussions for American athletes. Moreover, many believe that a potential boycott will overshadow the athletic competition.

Furthermore, many athletes believe that a distinguished competition like the Olympics is not the place to debate politics. They argue that a boycott would detract from what is most important in the competition: the athletes.

In essence, they believe that any boycott, diplomatic or otherwise, will only punish a generation of athletes.

It is also worth mentioning that the United States last led a full boycott of the Olympics in 1980. During that time, then former President Jimmy Carter announced the boycott in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

There are different opinions on the potential effects of the diplomatic boycott. However, a diplomatic boycott does the best job at walking the fine line between addressing both politics and athletics.