WASHINGTON (SID) – In the controversy surrounding restrictions at the Beijing Winter Olympics over criticism of human rights abuses in host nation China, US President Joe Biden has pledged to support his country’s team. “The administration has expressed support for free speech,” Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said four days before the opening ceremony in Beijing when asked about the president’s support for political statements made by American activists at the Games. It remained unclear to whom Biden’s assurances were directed.
The White House statement was preceded by an urgent warning from the Chinese Government Monitoring Commission (CECC) to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to protect the freedom of expression of its activists in China. The panel, which includes officials from both houses of Congress and government experts, urged the USOPC to be “vigilant and prepared to defend any Olympian who speaks out” while in China.
Beginning in the second half of January, organizers heightened international concerns about the safety of important Olympic athletes during the Games with hidden warnings. “Any speech in keeping with the Olympic spirit is inviolable. Any behavior or speech that goes against the Olympic spirit, especially Chinese laws and regulations, is subject to certain penalties,” a senior member of the Winter Games Organizing Committee was quoted as saying.
Against this background, and in the face of warnings from several human rights organizations that Chinese authorities would punish foreign critics, the Commission against Economic Crimes and Corruption recommended that the USOPC make “urgent efforts” to protect American stars during the Games.