How Biden’s symbolic Winter Olympics snub was designed to avoid China’s wrath

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wooAfter then-US President George W. Bush posed with the Chinese baseball team at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China was a rising power seeking international recognition and better relations with Washington.

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While China won the most gold medals, it was notable that former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao congratulated the US for finishing on top overall.

As Beijing prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, circumstances have changed completely.


US President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, citing “the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang and crimes against humanity, and other rights abuses”. The intention of the government officials to withdraw is to send a clear message to China on the international stage without restricting the participation of American athletes.

Major Western allies, including Australia, the UK and Japan, are hesitant as they decide whether to follow the US example.

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Beijing said the boycott was a “clear violation of Olympic spirit” and that the US would “pay a price”. China’s foreign ministry said it would retaliate, but did not provide any further details.

So there will be no sequel to the 2008 photo op involving Mr. Bush.

As White House press secretary Jen Psaki put it: “We will not contribute to the fanfare of the Games.”

A US boycott was called over China’s widespread repressive policies in Tibet ahead of the 2008 Games.

At the time, Washington held the upper hand in relations with Beijing, and sought to curb China’s development on the international stage as well as encourage it to be more democratic.

But the US seems to have lost all patience with China’s deepening authoritarianism since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.

“At first, the wording of the White House statement was actually quite difficult and to the point,” said Jonathan Gricks, professor of sports politics and diplomacy at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“It shows us that Biden is succumbing to internal pressure to act, but has done so through a ‘symbolic’ gesture with the aim of not completely derailing relations with China,” he said. Granthshala.

Both American Democrats and Republicans have lost any hope of meaningful change from the repressive policies of the Communist Party of China (CCP).

As Donald Trump’s White House did before, the Biden administration continues to crack down on China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, the detention of more than a million Muslim Uighurs in camps in Xinjiang, and other rights issues.

The boycott would send a symbolic message that the US would not legitimize China’s soft power fanfare, which analysts say was designed and worded in such a way as to avoid undermining the long-term goal of improving engagement with Beijing.

“It shows the Biden administration is doing what it thinks should be done in a non-provocative way,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that the diplomatic boycott did not go far enough.

“The CCP does not provide any information about the diplomatic boycott, because in the end, they are still hosting the world’s athletes,” he tweeted. “Joe Biden needs to stand up to the CCP.”

Mr Biden’s diplomatic boycott enjoys widespread bipartisan support, despite Republicans calling for a full boycott, which will also include athletes. The last time the US staged a full Olympic boycott was at the 1980 Moscow Games in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.

“A boycott in a politically sensitive year would be an embarrassment for Xi and his administration”

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University

But this approach carries its own risks, threatening to push US-China relations back to square one and damage the prospects of engaging in global issues such as climate change, the world economy recovering from the pandemic and nuclear proliferation.

“Having unnecessary provocateurs will not help build a working relationship with the most important country the US has to deal with, regardless of the latter’s human rights record,” Mr. Tsang said.

China’s leaders see the Olympic Games as an opportunity to assert their new position on the world stage as a superpower, and as an opportunity for other countries to recognize it, especially at the official level.

It would be a victory for Mr. Xi, who wants to show his domestic audience that America’s measures on human rights issues do not reflect the true nature of the relationship.

Mr. Xi counted the Games as an opportunity to polish China’s image abroad and hold extensive diplomatic talks on the spot. The event will also serve as a stepping stone to a third term in office, which is expected to be ratified in CCP Party convention in the second half of 2022.

But the US diplomatic boycott could prove to be a thorn in Mr. Xi’s plans, especially if a slew of other countries followed suit.

“This will weaken Xi a bit within the CCP because not everyone in the party wants him to have a third term, effectively letting him be a leader for life,” Mr. Tsnag said.

“It will be an embarrassment for Xi in a politically sensitive year as well for him and his administration, as he wants to show that he is very successful and globally acclaimed as he himself is set for life in the autumn of next year.” make.”

The timing of the boycott is sensitive and will force other countries to choose between the US and China, as several governments prepare for a major US-led and much-hyped summit on democracy this month.

“The ‘real’ benefit (from the diplomatic boycott) to the Biden administration is to appease domestic calls to action, promote Biden’s hosting of a ‘democrat summit’ in a few days’ time and signal that they take human rights seriously. Let’s take it,” said Mr. Gricks.

That means Mr Biden’s approach to China’s Olympic Games is based on calculations that aim to exert significant pressure to force Beijing to improve its human rights record.

And this will be reflected in how far China is willing to go in retaliation.

“The fact that America is ‘100%’ behind sending its athletes to the Winter Olympics means this symbolic act may well elicit a symbolic response,” Mr Gricks said.


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