By Chandelis Duster, CNN
The US government will protect American athletes participating in the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and their freedom of speech, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield affirmed on Sunday.
“I can reassure US athletes that the United States government will be standing with them in China and we will be there to protect them,” Thomas-Greenfield told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” when asked if the Biden administration can ensure Team USA’s safety and freedom of speech is protected.
Asked if American athletes are in danger, she said, “we would hope that the Chinese would not take any actions,” adding that the Biden administration’s goal is to make sure they are safe.
Thomas-Greenfield’s comments come amid concern for US athletes who may speak out against human rights abuses from China. The US has said China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic and religious minority group who live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The State Department has about two dozen diplomatic security agents in Beijing to provide protections for the US athletes, as is routine for any Olympic Games, a State Department official previously told CNN. The US is not particularly concerned about Beijing going after athletes who speak out against human right abuses because of how poorly it would reflect on the Chinese government, the official also said.
But exactly when or where athletes might express their opposition is still unclear, and any planning is being held very closely, human rights activists told CNN.
There are also global tensions as Russia continues to build up troops around Ukraine, prompting fears over a possible invasion. NATO and the US have warned that any Russian aggression or an invasion into Ukraine would result in serious consequences. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Beijing on Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics and called for NATO to halt further expansion.
Asked about the meeting and what it means if the partnership between the two countries strengthens, Thomas-Greenfield told Tapper it says to all democracies in the world “that we have to redouble our efforts to protect democracies.”
“This meeting of President Xi and President Putin, I think, reinforced our resolve that we have to continue to fight for democratic values, whether it’s here in the United Nations or in Ukraine or other places around the world where we see such attacks happening,” she said.
China has called for the US to “stop interfering” with the Olympics after the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics and forcefully rejected any suggestion that the US has coordinated a global campaign related to participation. Several nations are also participating in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games, including Canada and Britain.
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CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.