Xi Jinping calls Joe Biden ‘old friend’
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According to reports, the President is going to announce that neither himself nor any diplomatic officials from the US will attend the event, taking place in three months time, over allegations of human rights abuses. The potential snub comes as tension between the US and China rises over the fate of Taiwan. Joe Biden strongly opposed unilateral efforts by China to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Whilst in a virtual meeting between the two leaders this week, President Xi warned Mr Biden, “not to play with fire,” over Taiwan.
But sooner rather than later, according to several sources familiar with the plans, the White House is expected to announce that neither President Biden nor any other US government officials will attend the Beijing Games.
This diplomatic boycott is intended, the sources told the Washington Post, as a way to respond to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses without impacting US athletes.
Although the administration technically has not finalised this decision, a formal recommendation has been made to the president and he is expected to approve it before the end of the month, administration sources reportedly confirmed.
Biden and President Xi held a virtual meeting Monday evening, which was billed as a way for the two leaders to demonstrate their ability to manage complex US-China relations in an era of rising tensions.
Various reports this week have said that President Xi Jinping intended to bring up the Olympics issue with Biden, perhaps even inviting him to personally attend.
However, the issue didn’t come up at all during the 3½-hour meeting, according to initial reports.
A White House spokesperson said: “President Biden raised concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly.”
The Biden administration has not previously spoken about the possibility of a boycott in any capacity.
Now that the Biden-Xi virtual summit is complete, sources said, the administration has one less reason to hold off on announcing the diplomatic boycott.
The administration will inform allies but leave them to make their own decisions on whether to follow the US lead.
Human rights groups and activists, meanwhile, have called for a full athlete boycott as well.
But American academic and author, Jules Boykoff claimed a full athlete boycott was unlikely.
Speaking with The Diplomat magazine, he said: ““If by this you mean a ‘full-fledged boycott’ , both athlete boycott combined with a diplomatic boycott, then I do not view that path as very likely. However, a diplomatic boycott combined with an economic boycott seems more plausible.”
When discussing the reason for the boycott coming down to human rights issues, he said: “Let’s be clear: something needs to be done. China is no place for the Olympics, given that extreme human rights abuses in the country clash with principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”
With the Olympics traditionally being a non-political movement, it is unlikely that any athletes will either commit to condemning the issue or boycott the games themselves.
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Mr Boykoff confirmed this by saying: “Olympians are relatively apolitical, which makes sense since they need to devote so much time to their sport. Second, for many of them, Beijing will be their one and only chance at Olympic glory. Sacrificing this chance on the altar of human rights policy is a big ask.”
Senator Mitt Romney, who oversaw the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, also called for an economic and diplomatic boycott in a New York Times op-ed in March.
Mr Romney argued that a full boycott – which would involve athletes not attending – would be counterproductive.
He pointed to President Jimmy Carter’s full boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics which was spun by the Soviet Union as a victory in its propaganda.
Reaction to Cater’s decision was mixed. In retaliation, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics four years later in 1984.
In 2008, when Beijing last hosted the Olympics, then-President George W Bush accepted an invitation to attend despite China’s crackdown in Tibet at the time.
He later advocated for human rights inside China by hosting the Dalai Lama in Washington and awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal.
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