Last Dec. 2, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Olympic Truce for the Beijing Winter Olympics, with 173 countries taking part in the proposal. This set a new high in the number of countries agreeing to the truce resolution in recent Winter Olympic Games. At the same time, 20 countries cast dissenting votes, including Israel, North Korea, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, India, Japan and others. Israel and North Korea’s dissent was reasonable given they have been engaged in long-term states of war.
Since World War II and, in particular, the Cold War, the U.K. has followed suit with the U.S. on major diplomatic issues. Japan, Australia and India are significant members of the four-nation Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The first summit meeting in the Quad’s history was held last September with the intention of improving strategic coordination. The Dec. 2 vote was merely the first test of the strategic rapport among the four nations. The voluntary truce during the Olympic Games has been a standard practice by the international community since 1993, and is a significant expression of respect for the Olympic spirit.
On Dec. 6, the White House declared the U.S. would not send an official delegation to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on the grounds that China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and other areas made it improper for it to host the Winter Games. Afterward, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, Lithuania, the Netherlands and other countries followed the U.S., stating clearly that they would boycott the Beijing Winter Games.
The U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand are member states of the Five Eyes alliance. They all share an Anglo-Saxon culture, thus it is reasonable for them to stand firm with the U.S. Given Lithuania’s role as a leader of anti-Chinese sentiment in 2021, its relations with China have completely broken down, and so its decision to boycott the Beijing Winter Games along with the U.S. was unsurprising. After renaming its representative organization in Taiwan the “Netherlands Office Taipei” in April 2020, the Netherlands also declared it would boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, apparently having already determined its policy with regard to China and staying the course.
The depoliticization of the Olympics is just a goal, but politicization of the Olympics is normal. Under the Biden administration’s diplomatic strategizing of “competitive coexistence,” strategic competition between China and the U.S. has grown progressively deeper and more generalized. China attaches an extraordinary amount of importance to the Winter Olympics and became a natural target for U.S attacks. Academics commonly interpret competitive coexistence to mean competition by all means except war and is essentially a zero-sum game between rivals.
In spite of an international convention kept in place for more than 30 years, the U.S. has led an alliance of nations in opposition to the Olympic Truce of the Beijing Winter Games and has ostentatiously shown its true colors in boycotting the games with a single core objective: to diminish the positive influence of the Beijing Winter Olympics. In other words, the U.S. ruined the Beijing Winter Olympics and hurt China’s international image under the guise of protecting human rights. Since the U.S. considers the current China-U.S. strategy to be a zero-sum game, the damage to China’s international image directly benefits the U.S.
The second aim of the U.S. boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics is to further test and consolidate its ability to rally and lead the international community. It is difficult to assess who wins and who loses with the first objective, but as for the second, the U.S. has been severely disappointed. It is true that Israel is an ally of the U.S. It opposed the Olympic Truce, but hasn’t explicitly declared a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. More importantly, Israel did not dissent in support of the United States, but instead made a decision based on its own survival.
Although India opposes the Olympic Truce resolution for the Beijing Winter Olympics, it has explicitly declared its support for the Beijing Games and will send an official delegation to participate. Even more disappointing to the U.S. is the fact that Poland, its Eastern European ally, a country that served the U.S. in years past as a front-line opponent of China, dramatically announced on the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics that its president would attend the opening ceremony. Poland is fully aware of the context in which China-U.S. strategic competition is heating up with each passing day and how its high-profile participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics will be repaid.
When compared with the grand spectacle of more than 100 nations taking part in the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy in early December 2021, one could describe America’s boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics as a “lonesome” act. Except for the few die-hard “little brothers” of the U.K., Japan, Australia and Canada as well as the opportunistic nations of Lithuania and Netherlands, America’s other allies are considering both sides and avoiding commitment. Compared with democracy, the power of the human rights card to rally support is much less than one might expect. What’s more, to explicitly declare a boycott of the Beijing Games is to explicitly try to embarrass China, and given modern China’s strength and influence, many countries aren’t willing to pay an incalculable and unpredictable price to do so..
Two weeks after the Xi Jinping-Joe Biden videoconference, the U.S. arrogantly boycotted the Beijing Winter Olympics, utterly demolishing some of the positive expectations the international community had for the Xi-Biden meeting. Although the Biden administration’s boycott campaign certainly caused a measure of trouble for China and consumed a good deal of China’s diplomatic resources, it also left the world with the impression that the U.S. is leading the China-U.S. relationship into a new Cold War. At the same time, China’s international influence and appeal have been further tested and improved. The series of boycotts planned by the U.S. will ultimately prove to be a political farce that is not worth the loss.