By Adam Turner
In any normal Olympic year, athletes, fans and officials would be flocking to the site of the Games. But this is no normal Olympic year, nor is it a normal Olympic venue. In fact, the White House, citing China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. According to press secretary Jen Psaki, this means that:
“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.”
A “diplomatic boycott” has never been attempted before, so my organization, the Center to Advance Security in America (CASA), has sent in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see if there is more to it than the press secretary has explained. If this “diplomatic boycott” is exactly as it is currently described, it seems a bit underwhelming.
It also raises a number of questions about what the current U.S. government’s strategic approach is to China and of all the areas of tension, what are the actual priorities for this administration. Through a series of new FOIA requests, CASA intends to find all this out.
The Chinese Communist Party, which rules the People’s Republic of China, has recently been especially aggressive and unhelpful to the U.S. and its allies. For instance, they have increased their threats toward the Taiwanese government, resulting in tensions between the two Chinas rising to be the “worst in 40 years.” Where does this decades-old alliance fit in strategic importance?
The Chinese Communists have been accused of being less than candid about the origins of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has reportedly killed over 800,000 Americans, and millions more around the world. They may have even created COVID-19 itself, if the virus escaped from a lab in or around Wuhan, China, such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Again, it is unclear how important this backstory is to current China-U.S. Relations.
The Chinese Communists have signed an agreement with “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” the Islamic Republic of Iran, to create an investment and security pact that would “vastly extend China’s influence in the Middle East, throwing Iran an economic lifeline and creating new flash points with the United States.” And the Chinese Communists have been supportive of Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Ukraine, which may foreshadow a desire for Chinese expansion vis a vis Taiwan. Is this the place where the U.S. is planning to draw the line?
Few of these international crises involving China have seemed to alter the deep interest from top U.S. diplomatic ranks in prioritizing climate change commitments from the Communist government. Is this where the administration’s priorities lie? If so, it’s one many Americans may view as seeking to rearrange the deck chairs just after the ship has hit an iceberg.
The Chinese seem far from intimidated by the “diplomatic boycott.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry has suggested that there’ll be “firm countermeasures.” We shouldn’t be surprised by this given the international perception formed in the wake of our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of the U.S.-supported government there and the revival of the Taliban government. The American military in particular looked disorganized and ineffective.
Certainly, the U.S. cannot rely on “Big Stick” diplomacy with the Chinese Communists. Big Stick diplomacy is defined as the policy of carefully mediated negotiation (“speaking softly”) supported by the unspoken threat of a powerful military (“big stick”). The concept was outlined on Sept. 2, 1901, by then-United States Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who memorably said the U.S. should “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” But events over the last year show that the U.S. stick isn’t so big.
The U.S. also does not appear to be interested in using other “sticks” to discipline Communist China, either. There are a number of options they could use, if they wished to do so. The Biden administration could implement a full boycott of the Olympics, as Jimmy Carter did to the then-Soviet Union in 1980. Or, the administration could place new economic sanctions on China. Or, the administration could ship advanced offensive weaponry to Taiwan. Or, the administration could try to use the U.N., NATO, the EU, or some other international organizations to pressure the Communist Chinese on a range of other international security priorities. Based on public statements, it isn’t clear whether any of these are being considered.
This is where we need access to public records to understand what is really going on behind the scenes. A fully informed citizenry is crucial to ensuring that the right priorities are being pursued – or, on a more basic level, that the administration isn’t just flying by the seat of its pants with invented policies like a “diplomatic boycott” that may sound good to many observers but are generally ineffectual.
Stay tuned as my organization finds out the answer.
Adam Turner is the Director of the Center to Advance Security in America.
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