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U.S., China squabble over whether lower-level officials attending Olympics constitutes ‘diplomatic boycott’

People walk past a sign advertising the Olympics in Beijing last week. (Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. officials said that Washington’s “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics will remain in place, with no high-level official spectators, though there are plans to send consular and diplomatic security support staffers.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday had derided the boycott as a “farce,” saying it had received visa applications from U.S. personnel for the 2022 Winter Games, which kick off Feb. 4. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a statement Tuesday there will be no “diplomatic or official representation given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.”

Some consular and security officers will go to assist athletes and coaches, the spokesperson said, adding that any visa applications would be for them. “It is standard to have those personnel on the ground, and those personnel do not constitute official or diplomatic representation at the Games.”

The absence of high-level U.S. officials is largely symbolic and doesn’t affect the ability of American athletes to compete in the Olympics. But it does reflect the testy relations between Washington and Beijing. When China hosted the 2008 Olympics at a time of warmer ties, president George W. Bush attended and called it a “very uplifting experience.”

Washington’s snub of the Games is a sore point for Chinese officials, who say no human rights violations have taken place in Xinjiang or elsewhere in the country. U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain and Japan have followed Washington’s lead, saying they also will not send government delegations.

Chinese officials have criticized the absences as an example of American political manipulation. They also say there can’t be a U.S. boycott because Washington hasn’t been invited. “One can’t decline an invitation without first receiving one,” Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying tweeted this month.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing that Beijing had received visa applications from U.S. personnel.

“Now with regard to the U.S. request to send a team of government officials to China and their visa applications, the Chinese side will handle them in accordance with international customary practice, relevant regulations and the principle of reciprocity,” he said.

One person caught the coronavirus. China locked down 200,000 of their neighbors.

Human rights conditions in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region remain a flash point in U.S.-China relations, with President Biden signing into law last week legislation banning imports from the region unless the importer can prove they were not made with forced labor.

Uyghurs in the region have alleged they were forced to work in factories on threat of detention, as part of a sweeping “reeducation” campaign targeting the minority group. Xinjiang authorities say all residents of the region work voluntarily. The United States, along with several European legislatures, has declared China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims to be a genocide.

U.S. chipmaker Intel apologized on Thursday for asking suppliers to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang, after it became the latest target of fury from Chinese state media and Internet users.

China has been preparing for months to put its best foot forward for the Olympics, including plans to ensure blue skies by suspending factory production across the country’s northeast. Athletes, coaches and others arriving for the Games will be kept in a “closed-loop management system” for coronavirus prevention, a bubble that keeps them separated from the rest of the country.

Read more:

In pointed snub, no U.S. government official will attend Beijing Winter Olympics

China calls talk of diplomatic boycott of Olympics a distraction

Biden signs Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law

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