China has strongly objected to the United States’ diplomatic boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics, as more countries have expressed interest in joining the protest over Beijing’s human rights record, and New Zealand has announced it will not send representatives to the Games. 

Chinese officials dismissed the boycott as a “posturing and political manipulation”  and further attempted to delegitimize the decision by claiming that US diplomats were never invited to Beijing in the first place.

On Monday, the White House confirmed that no official or diplomatic representatives would be sent to the Winter Games and Paralympics in February, “given the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses”.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

Grant Robertson, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the country would not send diplomats at the ministerial level. COVID-19, according to Robertson, is the primary reason, “but we’ve made clear to China on numerous occasions our concerns about human rights issues.” 

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The UK, Canada, and Australia have all stated that their positions are still being debated. Lithuania’s president and ministers announced last week that they would not be attending the Games, citing trade and diplomatic tensions with China over the country’s growing relationship with Taiwan. 

Chinese officials reacted angrily to the US announcement, as well as dismissively. The Olympics, according to Liu Xiaoming, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, are “not a stage for political posturing and manipulation.”

“US politicians keep hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games. This wishful thinking and pure grandstanding is aimed at political manipulation,” he said.

“It is a grave travesty of the spirit of the Olympic Charter, a blatant political provocation and a serious affront to the 1.4 billion Chinese people. It will only make the Chinese people and the world see clearly US politicians’ anti-China nature and hypocrisy.”

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Liu’s tweets mirrored the language of several other Chinese officials before and after the announcement.

On Monday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, accused the United States of “hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games”, and threatened unspecified “resolute countermeasures” if a boycott was announced. 

Senior legislators, including Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, backed a boycott in the United States. 

Boycott calls have grown louder in recent months as large numbers of world governments consider how to respond to China’s ongoing crackdown on ethnic minorities, its intervention in Hong Kong, and other human rights violations.

The case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has been missing for almost three weeks after alleging sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier on social media, has heightened demands. She was later identified as being in Beijing by state media, but widespread concerns about her safety and freedom remain. 

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Human rights organisations applauded the US announcement and urged other governments to follow suit. 

The US, according to Mark Clifford, president of the UK-based advocacy group Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, has “shown the way” to world leaders.

“Work with the US and Lithuania and take up the only morally justifiable course of action by implementing diplomatic boycotts of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing – or accept that you are endorsing some of the most horrific abuses inflicted upon a population by their own government in modern times,” he said.