Biden says he’s ‘considering’ a diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

President Biden meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office
Associated Press/Evan Vucci

President Biden said Thursday he’s weighing a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“It’s something we are considering,” Biden said in the Oval Office when asked by a reporter about the prospects of a diplomatic boycott ahead of a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Biden on Thursday hosted Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with the North American Leaders’ Summit set for later in the day.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called on Biden to consider a diplomatic boycott as a way to push back on China’s human rights abuses. Such a boycott could mean Biden and other U.S. officials do not attend the Beijing Games but the U.S. still sends its athletes. 

The president spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, but the White House has said the 2022 Olympics were not a part of their discussion.

Asked about the president’s latest comments, the White House said Biden has “serious concerns” about issues including human rights abuses in China.

“There are a range of factors where we look at what our presence will be,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.

When asked to define what a diplomatic boycott would look like, Psaki did not comment further.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called for a diplomatic boycott in March and the Senate in June passed an amendment, which he spearheaded, that would mandate one in light of China’s ongoing human rights abuses, including against the Uyghur ethnic minority. 

“In authoritarian states like China, the Olympics has more often been a tool of propaganda than a lever of reform. It is unacceptable for China to have the honor of hosting the Olympics while the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the Uyghur people,” Romney told The Hill in a statement this week.

Romney in an op-ed in March mentioned former President Carter’s decision to fully boycott the 1980 Moscow Games, arguing that, unlike then, U.S. athletes should be allowed to compete in Beijing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in May backed a diplomatic boycott, saying the U.S. “cannot proceed as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China.”

“Here’s what I propose … is a diplomatic boycott. I don’t know if it’s possible, because we have not succeeded in the past. And I’m a big sports fan. I watch the Olympics in the middle of the night,” Pelosi said in remarks at a virtual hearing on China. 

“And to see the discipline, the focus, the dedication of our young, of our athletes out there is just the sources of such pride. Let’s honor them at home. Let’s not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China to show their support for their athletes,” she added.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Thursday called for Biden to implement a full boycott of the Winter Olympics, breaking with other lawmakers to call on U.S. athletes to not attend.

“For these reasons—the safety and security of our own athletes and China’s crimes against the world—we should launch a complete and total boycott of China’s genocide Olympics,” he said. 

He said he would sympathize with the athletes because they would be prevented from competing but “they’ve been failed by this administration who months ago, months ago, could have worked with our allies to develop a plan to conduct these games in another country.”

Updated at 3:32 p.m. 

Tags 2022 Beijing Olympics Beijing Olympics Jen Psaki Jimmy Carter Joe Biden Justin Trudeau Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Olympic Games Tom Cotton Winter Olympics
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