April 7 (UPI) — The United States is not considering a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, according to a State Department spokesperson who responded to reports that U.S. athletes may not go to the quadrennial Games next year over concerns about China’s human rights record.
Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday that a possible boycott was “on the agenda” and “something that we certainly wish to discuss” with allies. He later added that the United States is still consulting allies.
State Department officials, however, later denied that a boycott of the Games is under consideration.
“Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” an unidentified senior State Department official told CNBC.
Over the past month, some diplomats in Beijing have discussed a possible boycott as leading business brands came under attack for statements on human rights abuses in the far west Chinese region of Xinjiang, Bloomberg reported.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday that any U.S. criticism of China over Xinjiang are “doomed to be a flop” and would be met with “firm rejection.”
A boycott would harm the interests of athletes and “runs counter to the spirit of the Olympic charter,” he added.
Last month, the United States sanctioned Chinese officials for human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions followed similar actions taken by the European Union, Britain and Canada.
Beijing has previously rejected U.S. charges that it has committed genocide against the Uyghurs, a Muslim population indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. Beijing has called such claims “malicious lies.”
Only twice in Olympic history has there been a significant and organized boycott of the Games — in 1980 when the United States and 65 other nations didn’t attend the Summer Games in Moscow over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and 1984 when Russia and 13 other countries returned the favor for the Games in Los Angeles.
North Korea has said it will not take part in this year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns. The decision marks the first time North Korea will be absent from the Games since 1988, when it boycotted the Summer Olympics in Seoul.
The 2022 Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to begin next Feb. 4 and run through Feb. 20. The Summer Olympics in 2008 also took place in Beijing, making it the first city to ever host both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.