WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic games in Beijing to protest China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.
Under a diplomatic boycott, American athletes would still participate in the games, which begin Feb. 4, 2022. But an official delegation of U.S. government officials would not attend.
The idea of a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games is not new. As early as April, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. was in talks with key allies about ways to protest China’s human rights record at the Winter Olympics.
But Thursday marked the first time Biden himself had confirmed that a diplomatic boycott was “something we’re considering.”
Biden gave the brief answer in response to a direct question, before quickly pivoting to the next reporter. The exchange occurred during a meeting in the Oval Office with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the announcement of a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games would likely occur before the end of the month.
Human rights activists have long called for a global boycott of the Beijing Olympics, which they have labeled the “Genocide Games.” They have also urged the International Olympic Committee to postpone or relocate the events.
But Western governments have generally balked at the idea of a full boycott of the games, a move they regard as unfairly punishing athletes for the misdeeds committed by the host government.
Beijing has drawn international condemnation for its “extensive program of repression” against members of its Uyghur Muslim minority ethnic group.
In March, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on several officials in Xinjiang province, the traditional homeland of the Uyghur people. Those sanctions remain in place.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has labeled the treatment of Uyghurs in China a “genocide,” but Biden has not used the word. Beijing denies that it violates Uyghurs’ human rights.
Biden’s remarks came just days after he held a highly anticipated virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday night. The summit produced little in the way of concrete outcomes, however.
A White House spokesman later confirmed that the Olympics did not come up during the meeting, which lasted several hours.
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.