Will the Biden Administration Ever Boycott the Olympics? Who Knows.

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Posted: Apr 08, 2021 3:30 PM
Will the Biden Administration Ever Boycott the Olympics? Who Knows.

Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

While White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki signaled on Wednesday that the United States is "not discussing" a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, we can't say for sure if that will forever remain the case. The spokesman of the State Department, Ned Price, said on Tuesday that a boycott was "something that we certainly wish to discuss with allies."

This tweet came not long after a State Department press briefing, in which a lengthy exchange discussed the Olympics, with added emphasis:

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.

You're darn right "that what the United States does is meaningful, what the United States does will have an impact, but everything we do that is – that brings along our allies and partners will have all the more influence with Beijing," which is why decisive action, starting with, at the very least, a direct response, is so desperately needed. 

China is certainly noticing, and their response is particularly rich. 

Not only is Chen Weihua part of "China-state affiliated media" and the Chief Washington Correspondent of China Daily and Deputy Editor of China Daily USA, but he's also the one who infamously called Sen. Marsha Blackburn(R-TN) a "b*tch."

Associated Press reported on China's response:

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected accusations of abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. He warned of an unspecified “robust Chinese response” to a potential Olympics boycott. 

“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said the spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. “The international community including the U.S. Olympic Committee will not accept it.”

So, that was Tuesday. Again, Psaki was asked on Wednesday about any potential boycott:

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A couple foreign policy ones to get started.  First, there was some confusion yesterday about the U.S. policy with regard to the Beijing Olympics next year.  Is it the U.S. policy now that American athletes will participate in those Olympics?  And is the U.S. government going to encourage American spectators to travel to China to view those games?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, these are the Winter Olympics of next winter, I should say.  So some time away, as it relates to the second part of your question.  And certainly our hope is that we are at a point where enough people across the country — and hopefully around the world — have been vaccinated.  But we will rely on health and medical experts on that particular piece.
 
Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed.  We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.  We, of course, consult closely with allies and partners at all levels to define our common concerns and establish a shared approach, but there’s no discussion underway of a change in our plans regarding the Beijing Olympics from the United States’ point of view.

Where are we now, then? Well, we have Psaki's response, which is sadly nothing new from her, though it arguably offers more than the incomplete answer she snapped at a reporter last week. The State Department had to clarify Price's response. Then there's a "reiterat[ion]" from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors.

AP also reported:

That opposition was reiterated by Susanne Lyons, chair of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors, at a media summit Wednesday.

“We at the USOPC oppose athlete boycotts because they’ve been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues in the past," Lyons said. The committee doesn't wish to “minimize the serious human rights issues that are happening in China," but believes diplomats and trade and other government officials are better equipped to address such concerns and “young athletes should be used as political pawns in these issues,” Lyons said.

Boycotts also put “unfair pressure" on corporate sponsors who provide the bulk of financial support for athletes and athletic programs over the long term, not just for specific events, she said.

Does this leave the door open for the United States to reverse course? Your guess is as good as mine, though I'm not holding my breath. So much for the United States having a "meaningful... impact."