The Chinese flag flies behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. Photo: AFP / Greg Baker

The United States resumed its attack on China over human rights issues and promised a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics after the two countries’ leaders held a three-hour virtual meeting on Tuesday.

After the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, both countries agreed to ease visa restrictions for each other’s journalists and other media workers. But according to the Washington Post, the White House will announce by the end of this month that neither Biden nor any other US government official will attend the Beijing Games.

Meanwhile, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), an independent agency of the US government, said in an annual report to Congress that strict implementation of the National Security Law was stripping Hong Kong of long-held advantages that made it a global financial center. It also warned that China had acquired an “initial capability” to invade Taiwan with more than 25,000 troops.

Chinese commentators said the Biden administration had in the meeting promised to reduce conflicts with Beijing and oppose the idea of a New Cold War but it changed its stance quickly. They said the US should think twice about whether it wants to pay the price for creating conflicts with China.

The Xi-Biden virtual meeting on Tuesday helped ease the growing tension between China and the US but the two powers resumed their verbal fights over Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong on Wednesday.

During the meeting, Biden raised concerns about China’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as human rights issues, but Xi reiterated that the US should not intervene in China’s internal affairs.

Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration would soon announce a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to respond to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, particularly the repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a diplomatic boycott of the Games, saying the Chinese government had committed genocide in Xinjiang but that US athletes could still participate.

Beijing’s Ice Ribbon speed skating venue for the Winter Olympics. US athletes will take part but diplomats won’t be there. Credit: Beijing Olympics.

A commentary published on the website of the People Daily said the US was using excuses, including “human rights issues in Xinjiang,” to try to boycott the Winter Olympics. It said anti-China institution Chinese Human Rights Defenders and academic Adrian Zenz had made up stories such as “concentration camps” and “genocide” in Xinjiang to smear China. It criticized US politicians for ignoring human rights problems in the US.

Another Chinese columnist wrote in an article that the Winter Olympics would still be wonderful even without US athletes if they chose not to participate. He said he was not surprised by Biden’s sudden change of manners after the virtual meeting as it was Biden’s old trick to speak from a position of strength while calling for cooperation with other countries. He urged the US to think twice before creating conflicts with China.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said he would not comment on speculative media reports. Zhao said the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics would be the stages for athletes in the world while sport players would be the main characters.

Zhao also slammed the USCC for intervening in China’s internal affairs and undermining China-US relations by issuing its annual report. He said the USCC report was full of false information and malicious slander, showing the USCC’s long-term ignorance and prejudice over Chinese affairs.

The USCC submitted its annual report on Wednesday. In Chapter 4 titled “A dangerous period for cross-strait deterrence: Chinese military capabilities and decision-making for a war over Taiwan,” the report said cross-strait deterrence has entered a period of dangerous uncertainty due to advancements in the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

It said the PLA had systematically planned, trained and built the forces necessary for an invasion of Taiwan over the past 20 years.

According to the report, the PLA’s naval and air forces can already carry out an “initial landing force” of 25,000 or more soldiers. The report recommended that US Congress take urgent measures, including the deployment of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) in the Indo-Pacific, to bolster the credibility of US military deterrence in the short term and honor its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act.

In Chapter 5 titled “Hong Kong’s government embraces authoritarianism,” the report said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-controlled Hong Kong government’s implementation of the National Security Law upended the city’s social and political environment and curtailed the city’s freedoms.

The Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Beijing has strong influence over the choice of candidates. Photo:

It said changes to Hong Kong’s elections and the composition of its legislature now ensure pro-Beijing lawmakers will always have a majority, turning the once competitive Legislative Council into a rubber-stamp parliament.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government said on Thursday, “Any attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of China through Hong Kong will not succeed and we will continue to discharge our responsibility of safeguarding national security resolutely.

“To ensure that the electoral system of the HKSAR accords with the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and the actual situation of the HKSAR, the improvement to the electoral system of the HKSAR is both timely and necessary,” said the spokesperson. “The HKSAR government is committed to ensuring public elections are conducted in a fair, open and honest manner.”

The HKSAR is to hold an election on December 19 to form its seventh Legislative Council. Among the 90 seats, 40 will be selected by the Election Committee while functional constituency and direct elections will have 30 and 20 seats, respectively.

Separately, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a report designated China, Russia, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as violators of religious freedom. He said these countries had engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” He called for the international community’s urgent attention to the challenges to religious freedom in the world.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Zhao said Thursday about 200 million people in China follow different kinds of religion while 380,000 people were working for religious institutions. There was no doubt that Chinese people enjoyed religious freedom, Zhao said, adding that the US should pay attention to its own issues such as local anti-Islamic sentiment.

“The US has a false hope that it can continue to suppress China with sovereignty matters in Taiwan and Hong Kong while seeking cooperation with China in other topics such as climate change,” Wang Dong, an executive director of the Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding and vice president of the Office of Humanities and Social Sciences of Peking University, said in an interview with Chinese media.

Wang said Xi had stated clearly that China-US relations would follow three principles including mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. He said the era that the US could unilaterally define China-US relations had passed.

Read: Biden, Xi agree to disagree on Taiwan