Slacker’s Syllabus: Beijing Olympics Controversy

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In 2022, Beijing will become the first city to have hosted both the summer and winter Olympic Games.

The Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin Feb. 4 — but the Games have been met with pushback from a few countries due to China playing host.

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In December, the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. is backing out of the competition, though. Team USA will still compete at the Olympics.

So what is a diplomatic boycott, then?

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Athletes aren’t the only ones who attend the Olympics.

The U.S. also sends a group of high-profile dignitaries, generally led by the vice president or the first lady. In July 2021, Jill Biden led the U.S. delegation at the Tokyo Olympics.

A diplomatic boycott means that the U.S. won’t send this delegation.

“The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.”

Why boycott Beijing?

The boycott is the result of decades of tensions between the U.S. and China.

But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki specifically pointed to China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.”

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

The Xinjiang region is home to one of China’s Muslim ethnic minorities: Uyghurs.

Xinjiang is an important link in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which is basically a 21st-century Silk Road. (Spoiler: The U.S. isn’t a big fan.)

But there, China has been accused of placing Uyghurs into concentration camps and subjecting them to forced labor, forced sterilization, mass surveillance, and more.

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This isn’t the first time the U.S. has opposed China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

In 2020, the U.S. passed former President Donald Trump’s Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which imposed sanctions on goods produced using forced labor.

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But the U.S. also has a troubling track record.

The U.S. routinely funds mass surveillance of Muslims within its borders and abroad.

In 2001, the U.S. detained 22 Uyghurs who had been captured in Afghanistan in Guantánamo Bay, a detention center notorious for its human rights abuses. They were eventually cleared of the “enemy combatant” designation and released.

Ultimately, the U.S. peddles Islamophobia too. Its policies influenced China’s depiction of Xinjiang as a terrorism outpost.

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Xinjiang isn’t the only area of concern.

In December, Tibetan students protested the Games by locking themselves to Olympic rings outside of the International Olympic Committee’s Switzerland headquarters. They did so in protest of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, as well as China’s control of Tibet.

What are other countries doing?

Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are all joining in on the diplomatic boycott.

But South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his country won’t follow suit, so as not to jeopardize joint efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. France also won’t participate in the boycott, which President Emmanuel Macron said is “insignificant and symbolic.”

And although New Zealand’s diplomats won’t attend the Games, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the U.S.’s action has nothing to do with its decision. Instead, he cited the ongoing pandemic as the main reason.

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This will be the U.S.’s second Olympic boycott.

The U.S. led a full boycott — refusing to send athletes or diplomats — of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Even then, Vox reported, it didn’t sway policy — so some have doubts that this diplomatic boycott will be any different. French President Emmanuel Macron stated, “You either have a complete boycott, and don’t send athletes, or you try to change things with useful actions.”

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Following the diplomatic boycott announcements, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the U.S. Britain, and Australia of “us[ing] the Olympics platform for political manipulation” and warned they will “pay the price for their mistaken acts.”

“Those politicians who clamor to boycott for political self-interest are showing off and hyping things up, no one cares whether they come or not. It has no influence on Beijing’s success in hosting the Olympics.”