It seems simple enough: No moves from China on human rights, no freedom for tennis star Peng Shuai to leave the country and speak freely, no U.S. participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
It seems simple enough. And yet, less than three months before the Games are set to open, it appears that if President Joe Biden’s administration sends any kind of message, it’ll be a weak one.
That’s not going to cut it, GOP Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said.
Cotton is the highest-profile Republican to urge non-participation in the Games; in a statement on Nov. 18, he called them the “genocide Olympics” and urged “the Biden administration to mount a complete and total boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics — no athletes, no administration officials, no corporate sponsors,” according to NBC News.
“I regret that this would prevent about 300 of America’s world-class athletes from competing in the Olympics,” Cotton, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. “I sympathize with them. However, they have been failed by this administration, who, months ago — months ago — could have worked with our allies to develop a plan to conduct these Games in another country.
The United States must implement a complete and total boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The threat to our athletes and China’s crimes against humanity leave us no other option. pic.twitter.com/lSLvKhJPMd
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) November 18, 2021
“They’ve been failed by the leaders of the international Olympic movement, who never should have awarded these Games to a communist tyranny.”
That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, alas. On the same day Cotton made his remarks, Biden said the White House was weighing a so-called diplomatic boycott — no U.S. officials would be in Beijing for the Games, but athletes and sponsors would be there.
That’s not a foregone conclusion, however — it’s “something we’re considering,” Biden said in advance of talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked about the potential for a boycott, was similarly evasive.
The United States is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, President Joe Biden confirmed, a move that would be aimed at protesting China’s human rights record https://t.co/abiUoQIfUQ pic.twitter.com/c3k2d2GH0I
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 18, 2021
This was insufficient, Cotton said, because of the administration’s lack of a plan to protect American athletes — something he said he asked the White House about nearly five months ago and only recently received a response to.
“The sum total of the response to my letter was they have no plan,” Cotton said. “They have no plan to protect our athletes and their coaches and their staff from the very real and very concrete dangers I outlined last June.”
Those concerns included “ubiquitous surveillance” of American athletes, DNA harvesting and the possibility of hostage-taking.
Furthermore, Cotton added, “We should boycott these Games because of China’s crimes against the United States and the civilized world and its own people.”
Between offenses on a macro and micro scale — Uyghur genocide and forced labor, a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the forced disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a Chinese Communist Party apparatchik of sexual assault — the decision should, again, be easy.
But it hasn’t been.
The general sentiment on Capitol Hill has been for a diplomatic boycott, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls for diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics over China’s forced labor practices:
“How sad it is to see the Olympic corporate sponsors look the other way on China’s abuses out of concern for their bottom line.” pic.twitter.com/S16nUOGCiZ
— The Recount (@therecount) May 18, 2021
Appearing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Cruz said that in terms of a full boycott, “Jimmy Carter tried that in the 1970s; all it did was punish a generation of athletes.” (Cruz was referring to Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics after the USSR invaded Afghanistan.)
Instead, he urged the U.S. team to show “the courage the Women’s Tennis Association is showing to call out the murder, the genocide, the torture, the lies, the complicity on COVID-19 of the Chinese Communist government, to speak the truth.”
He also said he hoped “our young men and women, that they go over there and kick their commie asses,” adding, “We need to win in the Olympics.”
This is all wishful thinking, however. The International Olympic Committee doesn’t make much allowance for political speech, for better or worse. (Much worse, in this case, when a despotism has been awarded the Games.)
And, in terms of kicking commie butt and taking names, the biggest victory here is the fact that China gets to host a propaganda festival on a global scale despite it being the world’s foremost abuser of human rights and the government’s shameful obfuscation of the origins of COVID-19. There’s no haul of luge medals large enough to counterbalance that.
It’s still thoroughly unclear whether the Biden administration will go through with the diplomatic boycott, either — which is, as Cotton pointed out, “the absolute bare minimum that any civilized nation would do for these genocide Olympics.”
With the stakes being what they are, the bare minimum isn’t enough. If America truly is back at the table — as the president is fond of telling us, ad nauseam — Biden needs to lead by example and pull the U.S. Olympic contingent out.
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