The US will stage a diplomatic boycott against the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics to protest against human rights abuses in China.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden said the move was something the administration was “considering” but it has now been confirmed by the White House press secretary.
Speaking to reporters, Jen Psaki said: “US 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.”
US athletes will continue to compete, with Ms Psaki saying they will have the “full support” of the White House.
“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,” Ms Psaki added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez described the boycott as “a necessary step to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to human rights in the face of the Chinese government’s unconscionable abuses”.
He called on “other allies and partners” to take the same action against the Games.
Human rights advocates and lawmakers in the US have cited China’s poor human rights record as justification for the boycott, adding the country is using the games to whitewash its ill-treatment of civil rights activists, political dissidents, and ethnic minorities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused US politicians of grandstanding over the issue of not sending dignitaries to attend events that China hopes will showcase its economic development and technological power.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Zhao said: “Without being invited, American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is purely wishful thinking and grandstanding.
“If the US side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermeasures.”
In a statement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said: “The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purley political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.”
It said it welcomed the decision to allow athletes to compete, saying it shows their participation is “beyond politics”.
Later this week, Joe Biden is due to host a White House Summit for Democracy, which will see a virtual gathering of leaders and civil society experts from more than 100 countries.
The administration has said that Mr Biden intends to use the meeting on Thursday and Friday “to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad”.