By Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering not sending a diplomatic delegation to the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, to protest China’s human rights practices, five sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Governments typically send a high-ranking delegation of diplomats to opening ceremonies in a show of international support for the thousands of athletes from around the world who participate. The 2022 Winter Olympics run from Feb. 4-20.
Activists and some members of Congress from both parties have been pressing the Biden administration to diplomatically boycott the event. The U.S. government accuses China of carrying out a genocide against Muslim ethnic groups in its western Xinjiang region, accusations that Beijing denies.
A Biden administration official said the United States is considering whether or not to send a delegation, while planning to allow American athletes to participate.
Four sources with knowledge of the administration’s thinking said there was a growing consensus within the White House that it should keep U.S. officials away from the Beijing Olympics.
White House officials declined comment on the looming U.S. delegation decision.
A U.S. decision not to send diplomats would be a rebuke of Chinese President Xi Jinping just days after Xi and Biden worked to ease tensions in a virtual summit, their first extensive talks since Biden took office in January.
The White House has stressed the care that Biden has put into defining the relationship. After Xi referred to Biden as “an old friend” during the summit, the White House emphasized that Biden does not see Xi as such.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators in October proposed an amendment to an annual defense policy bill that would prohibit the U.S. State Department from spending federal funds to “support or facilitate” the attendance of U.S. government employees at the Games.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also called for a diplomatic boycott.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was talking to countries around the world about “how they’re thinking about participation,” but left a deadline for a decision unclear.
Republicans are keeping up the pressure on Biden.
“The United States must boycott the Olympics completely,” said Nikki Haley, a Republican former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “That includes our president. Attending sends a message that America is willing to turn a blind eye as Communist China commits genocide.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle, Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller)