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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking in the State Department on April 5 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alexander Drago/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. would discuss a joint boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China with its allies and partners, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Why it matters: An Olympics boycott by the U.S. and its allies could help persuade international legal institutions to open an investigation related to allegations of genocide in Xinjiang, human rights lawyer Djaouida Siaci tells Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Context: This would be the first U.S. Olympic boycott since Moscow in 1980 and comes as the Biden administration attempts to hold Beijing accountable for its sweeping campaign against ethnic minorities in the far west region of Xinjiang.

  • Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has called for an economic and diplomatic boycott.

What they're saying: "[A joint boycott] is something that we certainly wish to discuss," Price said. "A coordinated approach will be not only in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners."

  • "So, this is one of the issues that is on the agenda, both now and going forward, and when we have something to announce, we will be sure to do that."

Later on Tuesday, a senior State Department official told Axios: "Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners. The State Department Spokesperson did not say we had, contrary to some reporting."

  • "As the Department said, we regularly discuss common concerns vis-à-vis the PRC with our allies and partners. We will continue to do so, cognizant that a shared approach will always be in our interest," the official added.

Between the lines: Secretary of State Tony Blinken warned Beijing last month that the U.S. is willing to "push back":

  • “China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law."

The big picture: The U.S., U.K., European Union and Canada all announced sanctions in March against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.

What's next: Pay attention to whether Beijing seeks to pressure U.S. companies and Olympics sponsors.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comments from a State Department spokesperson, and to remove references to the International Criminal Court.

Go deeper

Apr 6, 2021 - World

Human rights lawyer: Genocide in Xinjiang is "crystal clear"

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Djaouida Siaci

Djaouida Siaci is an international lawyer who focuses on human rights violations, genocide and sexual violence. She spoke to Axios about the international human rights law perspective on the Chinese government's actions in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: Siaci believes that a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics wouldn't just be symbolic; it could help persuade international legal institutions to open an investigation related to allegations of genocide in Xinjiang.

Olympic committee gave uniform contract to Chinese company with Xinjiang ties

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave a uniform contract for the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to a Chinese textiles company that has an affiliated factory in Xinjiang and that openly advertises its use of Xinjiang cotton.

Why it matters: The opacity of supply chains in China means it may be hard to determine if goods are made through forced labor.

Apr 6, 2021 - World

Global capitalism abets China's repression

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

By incentivizing companies to go along with the Chinese government's repressive policies in Xinjiang and imposing punishments on those that don't, the Chinese Communist Party has made complicity in repression profitable for some companies — and for others, even mandatory.

The big picture: With the second-largest market in the world — one that is projected to surpass the U.S. to take the top spot by 2028 — the Chinese Communist Party has an enormous amount of power.