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Psaki Responds To China Sending Uyghur Muslim To Light Olympic Cauldron: ‘We Can’t Allow This To Be A Distraction’
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions during the daily White House briefing on February 04, 2022 in Washington, DC. Psaki answered a range of questions during the briefing relating primarily to the January jobs report, Russia and Biden's appointment of a Supreme Court nominee. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. must not allow China’s inclusion of a Uyghur in the Olympics opening ceremony to distract from the ongoing massive abuse of human rights in the Communist-controlled country.

Psaki was asked Monday about China’s decision to include Olympic cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a Uygher, in the games’ opening ceremony. China set up the stunt, having Yilamujiang carry the Olympic flame along with Han Chinese athlete Zhao Jiawen, over mounting criticism of rampant human rights abuse in its Xinjiang province.

“We can’t allow this to be a distraction from, exactly as you said, the human rights abuses, the genocide that we’re seeing in parts of China,” Psaki said. “That is why we did not send a diplomatic delegation even as we’re cheering for our U.S. athletes. Diplomacy is complicated as we know, but we cannot allow it to be a distraction from what we know is happening to many people in China”

The United States and numerous other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, are using diplomatic boycotts of the 2022 Olympic Games to draw attention to China’s human rights abuses. At the same time, U.S. officials such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are warning athletes to refrain from publicly criticizing China while on their territory.

“Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless,” Pelosi said last week. “Now the IOC, aided by corporate sponsors, once again turns a blind eye with the 2022 Winter Olympics just to bolster their bottom line. If we do not speak out against human rights violations in China, because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere.”

Yilamujiang disappeared from the public spotlight almost immediately after being the center of attention during the opening ceremony. She competed in her Olympic debut the day after the ceremony, taking 42nd in a field of 65 competitors in her event. Afterward, she and other Chinese athletes apparently skirted an area that International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules state athletes must walk through to give media a chance to interview them.

Neither Yilamujiang nor three other Chinese athletes walked through the media area. According to The Wall Street Journal:

Afterward, Ms. Yilamujiang and the three other Chinese athletes competing in the event slipped away, leaving more than a dozen Chinese and foreign journalists waiting for more than an hour in frigid temperatures.

Ms. Yilamujiang’s escape, if that’s what it was, appeared to be in contravention of International Olympic Committee rules that require all athletes to pass through a “mixed zone” where they can—but aren’t obliged to—answer journalists’ questions.

The IOC confirmed in an emailed response to questions that mixed-zone rules remain in place despite the pandemic, but it declined to comment on Ms. Yilamujiang’s no-show. Ms. Yilamujiang couldn’t be reached for comment through China’s National Olympic Committee, which didn’t reply to requests for comment.

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