The President has not yet formally signed off on having no government officials attend, the senior administration official cautioned, but discussions regarding the matter have all leaned in that direction. The Washington Post was first to report on the news.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have advocated for a diplomatic boycott in protest of China’s human rights abuses. Some Republicans have even suggested no American athletes attend either, but the official said a full boycott is unlikely right now.
The topic of the Olympics and Biden’s attendance did not come up during his three-and-a-half hour meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday night.
On Tuesday, Biden was asked whether there would be a US delegation to the Beijing Olympics. The President — who had his back turned when the question was asked — replied: “I’m the delegation and I dealt with it.”
However, White House deputy press secretary Chris Meagher clarified on Wednesday that “the President was not providing an update in his answer last night.”
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US and allies are in “active conversations” about how to approach the upcoming Winter Olympics in China.
Blinken, appearing virtually at the New York Times DealBook Summit, was asked whether he thinks American athletes should participate since he has said in the past that China is involved in genocide, given its policies toward Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
“We are talking to, to allies, to partners, to countries around the world about how they’re thinking about the games, how they’re thinking about participation,” Blinken said. “It’s an active conversation. We’re coming, we’re coming up on the games, but let me leave it at that for today.”
The games are set to begin on February 4 in Beijing and last until February 20. When asked what date the deadline is for the US and other countries to make a decision, Blinken sidestepped.
“Well, let’s see,” he said. “The games are coming up, when, in February, early in the year, so before then.”
Biden and Xi’s virtual summit — seen as some of the most critical diplomatic talks of Biden’s presidency — yielded no significant breakthroughs. However, it served as an auspicious restart to relations following significant deterioration during the final year of the Trump administration and continued hostility into the Biden administration, including when US and Chinese diplomats traded barbs during a March summit in Alaska.
Throughout this week’s virtual summit, the leaders engaged in a “healthy debate,” according to a senior Biden administration official present for the discussions.
Biden raised concerns about human rights, Chinese aggression toward Taiwan and trade issues.
Nearly every major issue Biden is focused on — including addressing supply chain issues, climate change, North Korea and Iran — has a nexus to China. And the two countries, which have the world’s two largest economies, remain in disputes over trade, military aggression, global infrastructure, public health and human rights.
Biden has long argued that democracies can deliver more effectively than autocracies like China, and he’s used his now-passed infrastructure package to show domestically how political parties in democracies can work together. On a more global scale, he’s also forged international infrastructure agreements intended to compete with China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Xi, meanwhile, cemented his consolidation of power last week when the Chinese Communist Party adopted a landmark resolution elevating him in stature to his two most powerful predecessors — Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He is attempting to seek an unprecedented third term in power at the 20th Party Congress next fall.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.