Diplomatic games: On U.S. boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

The U.S. government said on December 6 it will stage what it called a “diplomatic boycott” of the Winter Olympics, set to begin in Beijing on February 4. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the decision was taken because “U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual”. These games, she argued, could not be treated as such because of China’s “human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”. The announcement came days ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s “Summit of Democracy”, with leaders and representatives from more than 100 countries; China and Russia were not invited. China’s Foreign Ministry has described the boycott as an “outright political provocation”, warning that China would take “firm countermeasures”. Sharp statements aside, the U.S. move is largely symbolic and is unlikely to have a major impact. A diplomatic boycott, which means no official representation, holds far less weight than a complete boycott which would have meant the absence of American athletes. While Australia and New Zealand have also announced that their officials will not be present in China, it remains to be seen how much traction the U.S. campaign will receive beyond its allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in India earlier this week, has announced he will be present at the games, underlining the continuing closeness between China and Russia amid their divergences with the West.

China has seized upon both the U.S. boycott and the democracy summit to launch a counter campaign. This week, China’s government released a white paper on democracy, saying there was “no fixed model” and criticising the U.S. system for its “money politics”, a message that Beijing’s officials hope will find sympathetic audiences in Asia, Africa and Latin America, particularly among those countries left out of the summit (including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). India, meanwhile, has found itself treading the middle ground in this clash of values despite the downturn in ties with China. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among the leaders attending the democracy summit, New Delhi last month signed off on a statement issued by the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China expressing support for the games. The G20 summit in October had stopped short of doing so, merely saying it looked ahead to the games after the U.S. reportedly opposed a stronger declaration of support. The exchanges this week are a reminder of the current state of ties between the world’s two biggest powers, which have clashed over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea among other issues, even though their two leaders, in a virtual summit last month, agreed to “responsibly” manage an increasingly competitive relationship. What has complicated that task is a growing clash of values, with ideological differences adding another element to a relationship already in trouble over trade and geopolitical leverage.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 5:13:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/diplomatic-games-the-hindu-editorial-on-us-boycott-of-beijing-winter-olympics/article37904552.ece

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