President Joe Biden debuted a tougher tone toward China this week when he announced a diplomatic boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing after protracted criticism of his Chinese Communist Party tolerance.
While Biden's decision not to dispatch administration diplomats and officials to the highly anticipated event was mostly welcomed, critics contend it was overdue and could have been better organized to deliver a more powerful message to Chinese President Xi Jinping, a man Biden once referred to as an "old friend."
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Biden's Winter Olympics diplomatic boycott is "honest," not "tough," according to Kelley Eckels Currie, former U.S. Global Women’s Issues ambassador-at-large and representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
"Am I glad they did it? Of course. Was it a necessary thing to do? Yes. Is it insufficient? Absolutely. And are there other things that they need to be doing? Absolutely," she told the Washington Examiner.
Currie proposed including more Chinese government entities, businesses, and foreign nationals on the Commerce Department's trade restriction list and in the Treasury Department's Global Magnitsky Sanctions Program, announcements traditionally made Dec. 10, Human Rights Day. Biden should have delayed his diplomatic boycott rollout to coincide with Friday's likely new actions or waited to tout it alongside Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, according to Currie.
"I'm all for doing all the performative things, but they need to be paired with meaningful efforts like sanctions enforcement," she said.
Biden's biggest China blunder was believing he and internationally focused climate envoy John Kerry could broker "a grand deal" on the environment, according to Currie. China and India collaborated last month to weaken the final U.N. climate summit framework.
Currie urged Biden to take Chinese military, technology, manufacturing, and natural resource edges seriously as well, imploring him to disempower Kerry.
"Let's work on restoring U.S. supply chains on solar. Let's work on building our capability to control critical minerals that we need not just to power electric vehicles but also to create the gyroscopes that go in our missiles," she said. "Or chip production. These are things that you really can get bipartisan agreement on."
Aside from genocide and human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province, Biden's diplomatic boycott was "insufficient" because of China's cyberattacks on the United States, its threats against Taiwan, and its lack of COVID-19 transparency, according to Vandenberg Coalition Executive Director Carrie Filipetti.
"It is a question about both the security of the Uyghur population and of our American athletes being sent to Beijing," the former State Department deputy assistant secretary for Cuba and Venezuela said.
Instead, Biden should have lobbied the International Olympic Committee to find another host country, according to Filipetti. He should call on Congress to pass the Uyghur Force Protection Act, either through the defense spending bill or as a stand-alone measure, too, she said.
"The Olympics serve as an example of the importance of sportsmanship and international cooperation," she said. "China serves only to undermine these norms."
Biden's boycott is "a large shift" in how the U.S. perceives the Olympics as a diplomatic tool since the 2008 Summer Games, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies's Scott Kennedy. But the senior adviser and Chinese Business and Economics trustee chairman defended Biden's decision not to ban Olympians from participating in 2022, arguing China will be under greater scrutiny because of it.
"These Olympics will feature 16 days of global conversation about China's human rights situation, and so that is the type of conversation that the advocates of shining a spotlight on China should want," he said. "That wouldn't have occurred if it was a full-scale boycott.
Currie praised the Women's Tennis Association, more broadly, for canceling its Chinese tournaments over concerns regarding the well-being of Peng Shuai, the 35-year-old Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion who disappeared for weeks after accusing retired Chinese senior Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of sexual assault.
"You now have a model where an entity that had real, meaningful interest in China has said, 'You know what? Human lives, people, the integrity of our sport is more important than this pile of money, and we are going to actually walk away from that,'" she said. "This is nearly unprecedented in the modern era of U.S.-China economic relations."
The WTA's decision can be compared with those of corporate leaders, such as Bridgewater Associates founder and co-chairman Ray Dalio, vis-a-vis China, according to Currie. Dalio would be in "a bind" about where to invest if he "evaluated all approaches around the world," the entrepreneur told CNBC last week.
"We are moving toward a tipping point where it is going to become untenable to try to keep doing business with this genocidal government that is openly threatening U.S. interests and simultaneously abusing their own people in ways that are very, very open and clear and unapologetic," Currie said.
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But Kennedy disagreed, indicating there is an "upside" to the U.S.-China commercial relationship. "In my view, you can improve opportunities for American competitiveness with supply chain issues, even address issues of human rights, and strengthen American national security," he said.