House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday urged U.S. Olympic athletes not to speak out against the Chinese government just hours after the politically charged Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said she feared for the athletes’ safety should they make any statements critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
“I do not encourage them to speak out against the Chinese government there, because I fear for their safety if they do,” she said. “I hope they are safe athletically, politically and every other way.”
Lawmakers have been increasingly critical of Beijing, especially its poor human rights records, including abuses of China’s Uyghur minority. President Biden imposed a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing.
“We salute the president for the diplomatic boycott that has been joined by other countries, and the approach that I support,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Beijing hosted the opening ceremony for the games Friday.
Republicans for months called for a full boycott of the games over human rights abuses and the security risk posed for athletes and coaches in attendance.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said the games pose a security risk for athletes and coaches who could be subject to pervasive surveillance or potential kidnapping by the Chinese Communist Party. He also raised concerns over the potential for the CCP to collect DNA samples from the athletes through COVID-19 testing, which he said aligns with their intelligence gathering objectives.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans last week raised alarms about the safety of U.S. athletes in Beijing and called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to brief the athletes on China’s human rights abuses.
In a letter to Mr. Blinken, the lawmakers said the athletes could be in jeopardy if they speak out about China’s human rights record.
Mr. Biden announced the diplomatic boycott in December citing “the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”