At separate press conferences on December 6, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki and State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed various news reports that the United States would carry out a "diplomatic boycott" of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Psaki and Price both described the action in the following terms: The United States "will not send any diplomatic or official representation" to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the Paralympic Games given the PRC’s "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang," as well as other human rights abuses. Psaki added that: "U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang. And we simply can’t do that."
At these press conferences, a number of issues were discussed:
- Whether a diplomatic boycott was sufficient here.
- When and how the Chinese government was informed of this action.
- Whether this was actually a diplomatic boycott given that some diplomats would still be in China.
- Whether there will be other measures or other forms of a boycott.
- Whether other countries will participate in the boycott.
- Whether the administration will push American companies to carry out some form of boycott.
- Whether China will impose countermeasures.
The full text of the various exchanges at each press conference is below.
Jen Psaki December 6 press conference:
Q ... on the Olympics and the diplomatic boycott: Several reports that the President has decided to move forward with the move. Is that correct that he’s come to this decision?
MS. PSAKI: The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.
The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.
U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang. And we simply can’t do that.
As the President has told President Xi, standing up for human rights is in the DNA of Americans. We have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights. And we feel strongly in our position, and we will continue to take actions to advance human rights in China and beyond.
Q The Chinese Foreign Ministry has already suggested that there’ll be countermeasures — “firm countermeasures” is, I believe, the term that they used. Have they indicated to the administration yet what sort of action that they might take for this move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything to read out in terms of their intentions or what they would convey from officials from the PRC. But our view is that’s not the right way to view or frame our relationship.
Our view is that cooperation on transnational issues is not a favor to us. It is not a transaction. The PRC should be taking action on issues, aware of where the global community — to meet the needs of the global community. And that’s what they should do in order to be a part of leadership in the global community.
So I don’t have anything to read out on their front; they can certainly speak for themselves.
Q And just very quickly on China, if I may: Is a diplomatic boycott enough, given the human rights abuses that you’re concerned about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say: Everybody can call it whatever they want to call it. I would just remind you that, often, when you use “diplomatic boycott” — that phrase — that brings people back to 1980, and we are not. The athletes will be participating. We will be rooting for the athletes from home. I am an Olympics-obsessed person, so I’m looking forward to doing that. But I think this is just an indication that it cannot be business as usual, that not sending a diplomatic delegation sends that message.
That does not mean — I think this was your question, just to come back to it — that we are — that is the end of the concerns we will raise about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
We’ve already taken a number of steps. We’ve been a leader in the world in leading actions through the G7. We’re obviously also working with Congress. But this is just sending a message that, given these human rights abuses, we cannot proceed with business as usual.
Q Are you trying to get other allies to join the United States in this diplomatic boycott?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, we have informed them of our decision, and obviously we will leave it to them to make their own decisions.
Q And why not pull American athletes from the Olympics?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that we felt it was — it was the right step to penalize athletes who have been training, preparing for this moment. And we felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation.
Q And then, on China, did the White House consider going a step further and barring U.S. athletes from participating in the Games?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into additional considerations. All I can convey to you is where we landed and the decision that was made and why.
Q And why did you make that particular decision? Why not bar U.S. ath- — why not go further and bar U.S. athletes from the Games?
MS. PSAKI: Because not sending a U.S. delegation sends a clear message that we cannot conduct ourselves with business as usual, that we are not in a state for business as usual as appropriate, at a time where there are human rights abuses that we have been outspoken about, that we have taken actions on. And we feel this sends a clear message.
At the same time, we believe U.S. athletes — people who have been training, giving up a lot of blood, sweat, and tears preparing for these Olympics — should be able to go and compete. And we look forward to cheering for them from home.
Q Jen, did President Biden give President Xi any kind of a heads-up about his intention and decision-making with this diplomatic boycott?
MS. PSAKI: When they spoke a few weeks ago?
Q Yes. Or —
MS. PSAKI: It was — the Olympics —
Q — or before your announcement today.
MS. PSAKI: — the Olympics were not a topic of discussion during that call.
Q Will he? Will there be any conversations between the two governments explaining the decision-making?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly lower level than President Biden — they were made aware of the decision.
Ned Price December 6 press conference:
QUESTION: ... Can I just start with a very quick question on the – what the White House, your colleague at the White House announced today on the – in terms of the Olympics?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: This is being presented everywhere as a diplomatic boycott, but in fact it’s not really that, is it? Because U.S. diplomats will be at the Games assisting with the athletes and with the – with others who – other American citizens who may be there?
MR PRICE: Matt, you are welcome to call it whatever you would like, but –
QUESTION: I’m not calling it. I’m —
MR PRICE: I’m – you or anyone. I’m not – I don’t mean to single out you, but people are able to call this what they like. For our part, what we announced today is that we will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, as well as other human rights abuses.
Now, of course that does not modulate at all our support for Team USA. We will be behind them 100 percent. We will be cheering them on. But of course, we will not have any official or diplomatic representation that would send a signal that these Games represent anything akin to business as usual in the face of these ongoing atrocities, crimes against humanity, and the ongoing genocide.
QUESTION: So – okay, so then you’re saying that there will be no support for Team USA from the embassy or from DS, people coming – there will not be anyone from the State Department or any other agency flying over to Beijing to assist with this?
MR PRICE: So, of course, our top priority anywhere around the world – even when we have profound disagreements and take profound objection to what may be going on in certain countries – is the safety and security of the American people. And so, we do intend to provide consular and Diplomatic Security services to ensure that our athletes, coaches, trainers, staff associated with the U.S. Olympic team, that they are secure, that they have access to American citizen services, that we provide as a routine matter of course to all Americans overseas. But this is a separate matter from official diplomatic representation at the Games.
QUESTION: So – of course. So – but despite the fact that the President or the First Lady or the second – the Vice President or the Second Gentleman won’t be – or anyone else will be there, about how many U.S. diplomats do you think will be deployed to assist with the – with Team USA?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an estimate to offer, at this time. Obviously – we obviously –
QUESTION: A rough number. Going back to looking at previous Olympics, whether there has been a diplomatic boycott or not, about how many are we talking about? One hundred, two hundred?
MR PRICE: Matt, I don’t have those historical figures at my fingertips. What I can tell you, though, is that of course we do have a large mission in China, given the expansive and consequential nature of this bilateral relationship. So, on any given day – today included – we do have a number, a large number of Americans on the ground in Beijing and elsewhere throughout China who can support American citizens, who can provide those American citizen services. You are correct that with major events like this, that presence does typically increase. But today I don’t have any update to provide other than to reiterate that, as you heard from my colleague at the White House, we will not have any diplomatic or official representation at the Games owing to the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But you will have diplomats at the Games, right?
MR PRICE: We will, of course, have diplomats in China.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. No, at the Games.
QUESTION: In principle —
MR PRICE: Matt, this is really arguing over semantics here. It’s —
QUESTION: On that —
QUESTION: No, it’s – it’s frankly not. I want to know if that – if your decision not to send anyone means that there is not going to be any support. And what you’re telling me is that there will be support —
MR PRICE: We of course will provide American citizens services support to our athletes, coaches, staff.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s all.
QUESTION: As you know, many in Congress – and not only in Congress, the Secretary’s predecessor – were calling for much more tough stances like total boycott of the Games, even by U.S. athletes. And is – does this diplomatic boycott mean that this is it or that – will there be other measure to – other forms of boycott? Do you support calls by some in Congress to prevent U.S. entities to sponsor events at the Olympics? Is there anything else going to be to confront what you called a genocide in Xinjiang?
MR PRICE: Well, so what we have announced today, of course, is the lack of any diplomatic or official U.S. representation at the Games. I also want to be clear that this of course is not the totality of the steps we have taken, of the steps we have spoken to, in response to the ongoing genocide and other crimes against humanity that are ongoing in Xinjiang. And of course, this has been a priority since the earliest days of this administration. Even before he was sworn into his current office, Secretary Blinken made clear his – the fact that he agreed with the determination that was put forward by the previous administration that what was, and is, transpiring in Xinjiang constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.
We’ve put in place a number of financial sanctions. We’ve put in place a number of visa restrictions. We’ve put in place a number of export restrictions. We’ve enacted a withhold release order for goods that may be coming in from supply chains using forced labor. We’ve put out a business advisory. We have hosted a number of UN side events. We have ourselves galvanized joint multilateral statements with the international community. And I think that last point is quite important because it speaks to one of the core strengths of our approach.
When the United States speaks, when the United States takes action, the world listens. But when we speak and when we take action with the world at our side, as we have consistently done in the context of Xinjiang – whether it’s in the context of the sanctions we announced together with some of our closest allies and partners in March, whether it is in the context of the G7 communique that had quite strong language put forward on the genocide and crimes against humanity ongoing in Xinjiang that came together in June – we have done this consistently. And I think that really is a hallmark of the approach we have taken vis-à-vis the PRC. It is not just the United States taking these actions, but we are often acting in concert, in close coordination with our partners and allies, which obviously will inevitably carry greater consequence and have more impact.
QUESTION: Just another follow-up. You were mentioning the international community, and how much you consult with them on that. And over the last six months when we were asking you would you do any kind of boycott, you were saying we will consult or coordinate with our partner and allies. Is there any other country who is going to take the same stance as you are doing today?
MR PRICE: Well, we have routinely consulted with our partners and allies about the human rights abuses, including the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. And I think that consultation, that regular consultation, you see it reflected in many of the steps that I just enumerated – the actions, the statements that we have put out together.
Look, when it —
QUESTION: But for the boycott, are you confident you will not be alone on this —
MR PRICE: When it comes to representation at the Games, this is a sovereign decision that each country needs to make. We fully expect that other countries will announce their decision in the coming days and weeks. The Games are a few months away now, so I expect we’ll be hearing more from other countries. But this is a sovereign decision that each country needs to make. We came to our —
QUESTION: Are you confident that other countries will do the same?
MR PRICE: We came to our decision based on the human rights abuses, including genocide and other crimes against humanity that are ongoing in Xinjiang. What we know today is that there are many countries around the world, including many of our closest allies, who share these concerns. And you don’t have to take my word for it; you can see their concerns reflected in some of the statements that we have put out together, including in the G7 communique that was issued in June. So, I fully expect you’ll be hearing more from other countries, but I will let other countries speak to their sovereign decisions when it comes to representation at the Games.
QUESTION: First, China said it will take resolute countermeasures once it was first reported that this diplomatic ban was going forth. Are you guys concerned at all that this could turn into a tit for tat that isn’t actually based on the substance of the genocide and what is actually going on in China?
MR PRICE: Look, I don’t have a reaction to the PRC’s reaction. That itself would get into a cycle. What I will say is that our approach is predicated on these genuine concerns that we have. Our concerns and the approach that we announced today is substantive, it is real, it is concrete. I don’t want to try and preview, try and divine what we might see or hear from the PRC going forward. That is up for them to say.
QUESTION: And then just one other thing. American companies that are backing the Games, sponsors and the like, is there any message to those companies? Or are you allowing them to go forth with their business interests front and center?
MR PRICE: Well, we have done – we have gone to extraordinary lengths to send unambiguous messages to the international community, and that includes the private sector, about the concerns that we have with the human rights abuses that are ongoing in Xinjiang. We have done that by speaking out very publicly, by enacting sanctions, by moving forward with withhold release orders, with other steps that the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Commerce, the White House, and others have put forward in response to what we have seen take place and what we have seen ongoing in Xinjiang.
So, the private sector has at its fingertips – and this includes American companies – a large volume of information of the concerns that the United States has put forward, that we have put forward together with our partners and our allies. And it is up to them to make their own decisions about their practices in relation to what we have very clearly said is ongoing in Xinjiang.
QUESTION: But that’s a general message. What is your message to them about the Olympic Games, specifically? Do you want them to join the Biden administration in boycotting these Games?
MR PRICE: We want the private sector to be fully cognizant and to operate with full information, with regard to what is transpiring in Xinjiang. It is not, in this country, unlike other countries, the role of the government to dictate the practices that the private sector should adopt. But what we have done is put the private sector in a position to operate with full information, and we have engaged behind the scenes with the private sector as well. So again, it’s not for us to dictate, but it is for us to make sure they’re operating with a full sense of the information.
QUESTION: When did you notify Beijing about this decision if you did notify them? And would you – would the State Department prefer to have an ambassador in place for the Games, Ambassador Nick Burns or – at moments like this? Do you think that’d help – how important do you think that is? It’s a diplomatic boycott or whatever you want to call it, as Matt points out, but there could be incidents that arise in it and —
MR PRICE: So, this decision was rolled out over the past couple days. We’ve notified relevant stakeholders, but I don’t have specifics to offer publicly in terms of what that entailed. To the general point, we absolutely would benefit – and I’m using the “we” in an expansive sense – the United States would benefit from having in place a Senate-confirmed ambassador in Beijing and other capitals around the world.
Look, the point about our relationship with Beijing is worth emphasizing here. This is the most consequential bilateral relationship we have. It is a complicated relationship. It is a relationship that requires engagement to ensure that this competition – which at its core we want to make sure is fair. We want to make sure the American people, American companies are operating on a level playing field, but to ensure that this competition doesn’t veer into conflict. It’s about establishing those guardrails to ensure that this remains competition and to ensure that that competition is flat for the American people, for our partners, and for our allies around the world. And so yes, we would absolutely benefit from an ambassador in Beijing. We would tremendously benefit from an ambassador as talented, as experienced, as respected as Nick Burns.
QUESTION: But he’s a Red Sox fan.
MR PRICE: (Laughter.) For those who couldn’t hear, Matt maligned his sports preferences, but that’s neither here nor there. Nick Burns is someone in whom the President has full confidence, as you saw from his nomination; someone in whom the Secretary has full confidence, someone the Secretary knows well, and we would absolutely benefit from having soon-to-be, hopefully, Ambassador Burns in place in Beijing.
But the point remains across the board: No other country in the world, whether it is an ally, whether it is a competitor, whether it may be an adversary, would handcuff itself in the same way that we have handcuffed ourselves when it comes to our diplomatic representation around the world. We are grateful to have in this department a number of extremely capable and talented chargés around the world who have been called upon to take on the role of essentially ambassador in this vacuum that is before us.
But no other country would handcuff themselves in this way. It does not further our national security interests. It does not further our foreign policy interests. It certainly does not further any sort of progress on the very, I would say, narrow issues that certain members of Congress have flagged and have put forward when trying to explain what I would say is the inexplicable: their unwillingness to allow the United States to operate with its full team on the field.
So, this is something we are treating as the utmost priority, an utmost priority here at the department, because it is and has to be a priority for this department to have our full team on the field, to have everyone we can in place, working for, fighting for, protecting the interests and the values of the United States and the American people.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just lastly, on the – back on the Olympics “diplomatic boycott,” quote/unquote, you said in your response I think to Kylie’s question that the U.S. does – that the U.S. Government does not have the ability to tell private sector organizations what to do, but that’s not the case. In fact, in 1980, the U.S. Government told the U.S. Olympic Committee that it couldn’t send athletes to the Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, correct?
So, my question is this: Was there a calculation made in this administration that what’s going on in Xinjiang now is less bad than the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979?
MR PRICE: We are – look, first of all, I don’t want to say that this is apples and apples. This is – this is not 1980.
QUESTION: Well, no, but it is a private sector – and it’s a private sector – I know it’s not 1980, yes, and that – thank God it’s not 1980 for many reasons. But that was an instance where the U.S. Government told a private sector organization what it could do. And you said that you can’t tell private sector organizations what to do as it relates to China, and —
MR PRICE: My point, Matt, was this is not a command economy. We have a vibrant private sector. We have a private sector that’s going to make its own decisions. Our goal in all this —
QUESTION: Well, it’s not a command economy until you guys decide that you want to make it a command economy.
MR PRICE: I don’t —
QUESTION: Well, you’re – there’s all sorts of stuff that – and I won’t get into it because it’s political, but I’m talking about foreign policy-wise, you can tell companies that they can’t do business in a certain place. If you want to.
MR PRICE: Look, —
QUESTION: You can tell the International Olympic Committee that it can’t – or the U.S. Olympic Committee, sorry – that it can’t send athletes to a certain country to participate in the Olympic Games, or at least you have in the past. (Phone rings.) Whoops, sorry.
MR PRICE: Kylie posed the question in the context of private sector U.S. companies. I was responding in the context of private sector U.S. companies. But again, this is not 1980. What we announced in 1980 was something distinct from what we’re talking about today.
What we’re talking about today is an approach that we believe is appropriate given the human rights abuses, including the ongoing genocide that is taking placing in China, in Xinjiang. But it is also something that doesn’t punish our athletes who have trained in many cases for years and whom we look forward to cheering on, hoping they will return —
QUESTION: So are you suggesting that the Carter administration or that President Carter made a mistake in boycotting the —
MR PRICE: I’m not offering an opinion.
QUESTION: In boycotting the Moscow Olympics because he punished American athletes?
MR PRICE: I am not offering an opinion on the decision – on a decision that took place 41 years ago.
QUESTION: When you were —
MR PRICE: How old was I in 1980?