The announcement of the boycott came as the administration lobbied Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs.
The Biden administration announced it will hold a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, meaning U.S. athletes will still attend and compete, but the U.S. government won’t send any officials. The Chinese government vowed to retaliate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration made the decision due to China’s ongoing human rights violations. Activists and human rights organizations have been calling to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics since 2015. The Chinese government’s recent forced “disappearance” and “reappearance” of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has only energized the boycotting Beijing Winter Olympics movement. The Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome step.
But the announcement took place at the same time the administration faced criticism of its lobbying Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs. Those two contradictory actions raise questions about whether the administration is committed to standing up to China and upholding universal values such as human rights.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, aiming to “ensure that goods tainted with the forced labor of Uyghurs, and others, in the Xinjiang” do not enter the U.S. market. In July, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a similar bill co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But House Democrats stalled the bill until it passed Wednesday 428-1, as the Biden administration asked Democrats to slow and water down the bill.
Two key players led the Biden administration’s lobbying efforts. One is the administration’s climate czar John Kerry, who reportedly lobbied against the bill out of the fear it would dissuade Beijing’s cooperation on climate change. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., criticized Kerry on social media.
Another key player is Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. According to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, “Sherman’s specific criticism relates to a part of the bill that would require a presumption that all products coming from Xinjiang are tainted by forced labor unless the importer can prove otherwise.” Big corporations such as Apple have been lobbying against the same provision since last year. It is not a coincidence that the Biden administration and big corporations’ interests are aligned.
Frustrated by House Democrats’ inaction, Rubio reintroduced the Uyghur forced labor bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Democrats used a procedural excuse to block the vote on Rubio’s amendment. Rubio tweeted, “The Biden Administration is actively working to stop the passage of an anti-slavery bill targeting # China’s genocide. That is why they don’t want my amendment on this to get on the defense bill.”
Why did the Biden administration act as if the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) atrocities against Uyghur Muslims is reason to hold a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, but not to support a bill that will prevent goods tainted with forced Uyghur laborers’ blood, sweat, and tears from entering the U.S. market?
Since day one, the Biden administration’s China policy has been full of contradictions like these. On the one hand, it continued some of former President Donald Trump’s tough approaches on China, including expanding the Trump-era blacklist of Chinese companies that Americans companies should not invest in.
The Biden administration also deepened the U.S. partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom by establishing the AUKUS. This alliance will begin with helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines as a counterweight to China’s naval expansion in the Asia Pacific.
On the other hand, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced plans to bring American executives to China and further deepen Sino-U.S. economic ties as if everything is fine. The Biden administration also repeatedly capitulated to the CCP’s hostage diplomacy.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) set free China telecom giant Huawei’s senior executive Meng Wanzhou, although Meng admitted she was guilty of some of DOJ’s charges. In return, China released two Canadian hostages it had detained since 2018.
Days before president Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s virtual summit, the Biden administration sent back to China seven Chinese nationals who were found guilty and served prison terms in the United States. In return, China permitted one U.S. citizen it illegally detained and never formally charged to return to the United States.
During Biden and Xi’s highly anticipated virtual summit, Biden didn’t even bring up important topics such as how the CCP has obstructed an international investigation of the origins of Covid-19.
The Biden administration’s messages on Taiwan are especially confusing. During a CNN town hall, President Biden said that the United States was committed to defending Taiwan if it came under attack from China. The next day the White House clarified that the president wasn’t announcing any policy on Taiwan. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, warned: “Words are important, and we can’t be careless in how we talk about an issue that is so vital to U.S. interests and the security of the Indo-Pacific.”
It seems that after being on the job for almost a year, the Biden administration still doesn’t have a coherent China policy. The mixed signals the administration sent are problematic for three reasons.
First, they do not inspire confidence in the American people that the administration has the competency to protect them and American interests. Consequently, people may not want to lend the administration the popular support it needs to make difficult choices when confronting China.
Second, when the United States needs its allies to establish a united front to stand up to China and uphold universal values, few will follow the U.S. lead because of a lack of confidence that the Biden administration has the political will to see it through.
Third, the CCP may take the Biden administration’s mixed signals as a sign of weakness and be encouraged to take risky actions, such as invading Taiwan sooner rather than later. China’s invasion of Taiwan will not only threaten regional peace but also jeopardize the survival of the liberal democratic world order.
The great power struggle between the United States and China is the most consequential event in our lifetime. Ambiguity in policies and mixed signals could lead to disastrous consequences. The Biden administration needs to show clarity, commitment, and coherence in its China policy.
This week, heretofore nearly anonymous hammer thrower Gwen Berry made international headlines when, during the podium ceremony for winning bronze in an Olympic trial, she turned away from the United States flag as the national anthem played. The anthem wasn’t played for her, or for the other competitors in the hammer throw; every day during the trials, a pre-scheduled anthem went out over the sound system.
Berry turned 90 degrees from the flag, stood with her hand on her hip, and glared directly into the camera. It was a deliberate provocation and a deliberate attempt to raise her own profile. “I feel like it was a setup,” she later complained, “and they did it on purpose.”
Actually, Berry just saw an opportunity to maximize her profile, and she seized it with alacrity. In the United States, there’s far more money to be made and fame to be achieved by spurning the American flag and the national anthem than by embracing it: Colin Kaepernick makes millions because he failed as a quarterback but succeeded as a self-aggrandizing symbol of supposed racial bravery. Meanwhile, the thousands of athletes with track records superior to either Kaepernick’s or Berry’s who stand for the national anthem remain anonymous.
That’s because America currently rewards an entitled sense of grievance. Most Americans know little about foreign countries; they somehow believe that the United States is inferior, or that the prosperity, health and free lifestyle to which they have become accustomed is the global and historic norm.
It most assuredly is not.
While Berry was protesting the national anthem, the Chinese government was busy arresting the editor of the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily. That arrest came on the heels of the arrest of one of Apple Daily’s columnists for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” While Berry was protesting the national anthem, the Taliban was busy spreading like a metastasizing cancer over Afghanistan, preparing its new subjects for the tender mercies of brutal Islamist rule. While Berry was protesting the national anthem during an event at which she threw heavy objects for sport, billions of people were living in absolute privation the world over.
None of this means that the shortcomings of America should be ignored. But to protest the flag or the national anthem as particular symbols of grievance is to demonstrate full-scale your own ignorance and ingratitude. “I’m here to represent those who died due to systemic racism,” Berry said. But she herself is an excellent indicator of just how much promise America holds for its citizens. She grew up in the home of her grandmother, with 13 people in the house; she had a baby out of wedlock at 15 and then earned a college scholarship. She got two jobs and helped support her extended family. Now, she’s going to the Olympics. And presumably, there, she will turn her back on the flag and the national anthem if she makes it to the podium.
In doing so, she’ll become a hero to millions. She’ll get richer; she’ll get more famous. Perhaps, like pseudo-Marxist Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter, she’ll buy herself a few houses; maybe, like Kaepernick, she’ll make the cover of Sports Illustrated. Like self-declared Marxist Cullors, who currently owns three separate houses worth over $1.5 million each, Berry is in it for the attention and the profit. Yesterday, nobody had heard of her. Today, everybody has. It’s that simple.
One thing is certain, however: Those who spend their days championing their own ingratitude at a society that gives them extraordinary opportunities — opportunities unavailable to nearly all humans for nearly all of human history, and unavailable to most people on the planet right now — aren’t likely to live happier lives. And they’re unlikely to make their nations better, either.