It looks like the United States may be getting iced out.
Figure skating, snow boarding, ski jumping — with the hype over the 2022 Winter Olympics just kicking into high gear, it’s hard to ignore how excited everyone is over these winter sports. But while the country seems to be preparing for the competition, the White House is giving the games the cold shoulder this year. So, will Jill Biden be at the 2022 Winter Olympics in China? Don’t bet on it. Here’s why the U.S. government is getting iced out of the Winter Olympics.
Because the first lady often serves as her husband’s official representative at a range of events, you’d think seeing Biden at this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing would be a no-brainer. However, things are a little more complicated than that: On Dec. 6, 2021, the Biden administration announced a “diplomatic boycott” against the games due to China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, in the country’s northwestern region. While athletes from the United States will still be able to compete in the games, government officials will not be in attendance — so, it looks like the first lady won’t be attending the Winter Olympics this year.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki detailed the Biden administration’s decision during a Dec. 6, 2021 press conference. “The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” she said. “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,” she added, “and we simply can’t do that.”
According to a Jan. 19, 2021 statement from then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur community (as well as other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities) include the use of large-scale internment camps, forced sterilization, family separation, torture, forced labor, and more. “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo wrote, using an alternative spelling for the community. The United States isn’t the only country boycotting the Winter Games. Shortly after the Biden administration’s December 2021 announcement, several other countries, including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and Japan, stated they would also be participating in a diplomatic boycott.
China issued a critical response, calling the allegations of human rights abuses “the most preposterous lie of the century” in a June 2021 statement. “The more diligently the U.S. works to fabricate lies on China's human rights conditions and disguise itself as human rights defender,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the more it exposes its guilty conscience burdened by its grave human rights problems at home.”
Biden has flown overseas to support Team USA in the Olympics before, and the trip wasn’t all fun and games — she actually spearheaded a fair amount of diplomacy work on behalf of the White House. In 2021, she took her first solo international trip to the Tokyo Summer Games, and she had a pretty packed schedule: she had dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga, at Akasaka Palace; met with Emperor Naruhito of Japan at the Imperial Palace; and joined Team U.S.A for a virtual get-together. So for a government official (especially the first lady of the United States), a trip to the Olympic Games involved much more than simply cheering athletes on from the stands.
There’s also the fact that the 2022 Olympics, much like the ones in 2021, are also taking place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has raised questions about the safety of athletes, support teams, and fans at the games. Just as Japan did in 2021, China has declared that international fans will not be allowed to attend the 2022 Games, in an effort to prevent outbreaks of COVID.
So while athletes are still allowed to compete in the games, the United States will not be sending over any government officials to partake in the festivities — meaning Jill Biden is just going to have to settle for cheering on U.S. athletes from the White House.