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US Urges China to Allow Journalists Freedom at Beijing Olympics

A supporter of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics poses for photos with a countdown clock as it crosses into the 100 days countdown to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Oct. 26, 2021.
A supporter of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics poses for photos with a countdown clock as it crosses into the 100 days countdown to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Oct. 26, 2021.

The United States urged China not to restrict journalists' access and movement as they report on the 2022 Winter Olympics.

American officials, while not revealing whether the U.S. would participate in the Games, said Washington would continue to raise concerns over China's human rights issues.

"We urge PRC (People's Republic of China) officials not to limit freedom of movement and access for journalists, and to ensure that they remain safe and able to report freely, including at the Olympic and the Paralympic Games," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in response to VOA's questions during Thursday's press briefing.

In a statement this week, Beijing-based journalists expressed deep concerns about "the lack of transparency and clarity" of Olympics-related reporting in China.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said in a tweet that "over the last year, the foreign press corps has been continuously stymied in its coverage of Winter Olympic Game preparations, denied attendance at routine events, and prevented from visiting sports venues in China."

"We put together a TV story with material from a tour of an Olympic venue and mentioned human rights boycotts," a reporter at an international broadcaster said. "Soon after, the tour organizer called me on WeChat, the Chinese chat app, and yelled at me in English and Chinese for my report, threatening not to invite us in the future. We haven't been given access since."

'Profound concerns'

Days after leaders from the G-20 appeared to give the nod to the Beijing Games, the State Department said the U.S. continues "to have profound concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and a number of other issues pertaining to human rights in the PRC."

The G-20 leaders said in a joint declaration after the Oct. 30-31 gathering in Rome that they "look ahead to Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics 2022," adding that the opportunities for athletes from around the globe to compete serve "as a symbol of humanity's resilience."

In Beijing, Chinese officials interpreted the statement as a welcome endorsement just as the country prepares to host the Games, scheduled Feb. 4-20.

"The event has recently received good wishes and support of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and many countries," said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, during a Wednesday briefing.

"Dignitaries and Olympic committee officials from countries including Austria, France, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Russia and Belarus said they support and will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics," Wang added.

The Winter Games have been marred by controversy and protests, even though Chinese officials said Beijing would continue to follow an "inclusive and open" approach in the run-up to the Games.

Calls for boycott

Human rights activists and both Democratic and Republican members of U.S. Congress have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics because of China's human rights record.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States will continue to raise concerns about human rights issues as it works with China on areas of aligning interest such as Iran, North Korea and the climate crisis.

Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the margins of G-20 in Rome on Sunday, ahead of a virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping by the end of the year.

Both countries are anticipating a virtual bilateral between their leaders after the upcoming virtual meetings among leaders in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, hosted by New Zealand, is Nov. 12.

A virtual meeting between Biden and Xi on the APEC sidelines is unlikely, according to diplomatic sources. Some analysts said they saw little benefit in the U.S. and China planning a bilateral meeting around the virtual APEC summit.

"The multilateral agenda is neither held hostage to the U.S.-China relationship, nor do the two largest economies on the planet need to schedule their virtual calendar around virtual summits," said Drew Thompson, a senior research fellow at National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

U.S. officials say keeping lines of communication open is the way to responsibly manage the competition between Washington and Beijing and avoid military conflicts.

While the U.S. is clear about reducing risk and preventing misperception and miscalculation, Beijing's top priority is getting Washington to see the error of its ways and develop policies and approaches that Beijing feels are correct, Thompson said.

On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Price said the U.S. has a "One China" policy that is "distinct from the PRC's version of it," pushing back on the remarks of Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, who said the U.S. should "pursue a real One China policy, instead of a fake one."