Why is the US boycotting the Beijing olympics?

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 (EPA)
(EPA)

The White House announced on Monday that the Biden administration would not send any official representatives to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, set to begin in the months ahead, as it seeks to up the pressure on China’s government regarding human rights issues.

An announcement by White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday that Team USA’s athletes would still attend the Games but an official US delegation would not followed months of growing pressure from China hawks for the Biden administration to use the upcoming Olympic Games as a stage from which to hammer the Chinese government over human rights abuses.

Those calls only grew louder in recent weeks with the controversy surrounding the sexual assault allegations leveled by a top Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, who saw her social media posts censored by the Chinese government and a state-funded media outlet posting a falsified note purporting to have been authored by Ms Peng that claimed her allegations were falsified.

Here’s a quick look at how the Peng Shuai case and other issues are driving the US-China split:

Ms Peng’s situation is drawing more scrutiny to the International Olympic Committee

The IOC, longtime organisers of the Olympic Games, have faced criticism in the past for the group’s willingness to invite the participation of governments with authoritarian bents, despite the Olympics’ stated purpose of uniting athletes around the world regardless of political differences. No other time in recent years has the US done so; the Obama administration previously did not send top officials but did send an alternative delegation to the Games in 2014, when they were hosted in Sochi, Russia.

But the situation regarding Ms Peng has thrown the long-admired neutrality of the IOC into question. Many have accused the committee of taking Beijing’s word regarding whether Ms Peng remains safe and untroubled by the government, while the IOC has insisted that she has indicated as such on numerous calls with IOC officials.

“It was typical IOC: take the Chinese Communist Party at its word despite all evidence to the contrary,” said a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, Kelley Currey, about Ms Peng’s situation in an interview with NBC News.

Xinjiang and the treatment of Uyghur Muslims are a top concern

The Biden administration has emerged as a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority, particularly in the Xinjiang region where international rights groups have alleged that citizens live under constant surveillance.

Earlier this year, the White House announced a ban of certain goods produced in the region, which some China hawks and the State Department have alleged are produced via forced labour.

“In Xinjiang, the government is the trafficker. Authorities use threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture to force detainees to work in adjacent or off-site factories or worksites producing garments, footwear, carpets, yarn, food products, holiday decorations, building materials, extractives, materials for solar power equipment and other renewable energy components, consumer electronics, bedding, hair products, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, face masks, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other goods—and these goods are finding their way into businesses and homes around the world,” said the State Department in July.

Mr Biden has reportedly raised the issue with China’s Xi Jinping as recently as last month. Congress is also considering legislation that would further restrict imports from the Xinjiang region.

Ms Psaki referenced the situation in Xinjiang specifically during her brief remarks on the issue on Monday, explaining that the “atrocities” and “genocide” allegedly being committed in the region fueled the administration’s decision.

Taiwan troubles remain

Left unsaid throughout the administration’s announcement on Monday was the issue of Taiwan, the self-governing isle claimed by Beijing as part of its territory. While it wasn’t mentioned, it has remained a top issue throughout the first year of Mr Biden’s presidency as China hawks, especially on the right, have increasingly warned of the potential for a Chinese invasion of the island.

The Biden administration approved a sale of arms to Taiwan earlier this year, infuriating Beijing, and the president has allowed US officials to step up their official diplomatic relations with Taiwanese officials despite China’s opposition.

In August, Mr Biden mistakenly suggested that the US had a defence pact with Taiwan under Article 5 of the NATO charter, but the State Department quickly walked that back.

While the issue was not on the forefront of the Biden administration’s decision announced on Monday, Washington and Beijing have traded angry statements over the issue for months, contributing to the feeling of high tensions between the two countries.

State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Beijing in August to cease its “military, diplomatic, economic pressure against Taiwan, and instead engage in meaningful dialogue”.

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