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US plays down talk of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics boycott

State department spokesman had said country "wish to discuss" potential boycott with allies.

7 April 2021 Ed Dixon

The US Department of State has denied that the country is weighing up a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

Doubts over the participation of the US in next year’s event appeared to have markedly increased on 6th April when department spokesman Ned Price seemed to suggest that the country, along with its allies, could withdraw from the Games.

Speaking at a press briefing, Price said a boycott of the Olympics “is one of the issues that is on the agenda, both now and going forward.”

He added: “It is something we certainly wish to discuss, and something that we understand that a coordinated approach would not only be in our interest, but also the interests of our allies and partners.”

The US and China remain at loggerheads politically, with the latter facing mounting criticism over its alleged human rights abuses of the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang.

However, a senior state department official told CNBC that talk of a joint boycott is premature.

‘Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed,’ the official said in a statement to CNBC. ‘We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.’

US president Joe Biden has previously said he would take a different approach to China compared to the Trump administration, which escalated a trade war with the Asian country. Since coming to office, Biden has said he will work more closely with allies in order to push back against China.

The general consensus among the US and its allies is to take a tougher stance on China, but there has been no unanimous agreement on a mass boycott of the Olympic Games, the prospect of which appears some way off.

A former senior treasury official from the US government told CNBC that such a move would reflect a “Cold War statement”, instead believing the country should make an impact through competition.

“It’s better to go there and dominate,” the official told CNBC. “It’s better to be Jesse Owens than the Soviets in ’84.”

Last month, the US sanctioned two Chinese officials over their roles in human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

China has consistently denied accusations that it has committed genocide against the Uighurs, whose population is Muslim.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are due to be held from 4th to 20th February.

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