Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labour.
Bob Menendez, the chair of the powerful US Senate foreign relations committee, welcomed the diplomatic boycott as “a powerful rebuke” of the “genocide in Xinjiang.”
He and top House foreign affairs Democrat Gregory Meeks called for other countries to follow the US lead.
Meeks warned the international community should not be helping China “whitewash its atrocities against Uyghurs and other minorities.”
But Republican Senator Tom Cotton called it a “half measure, when bold leadership was required.”
“The United States should fully boycott the Genocide Games in Beijing,” he said in a statement.
The last full boycott of the Olympics by the US was in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter withdrew in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Human Rights Watch called the Biden administration’s decision “crucial” but urged more accountability “for those responsible for these crimes and justice for the survivors.”
Earlier Monday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned the Games were “not a stage for political posturing and manipulation” – in response to reports a boycott could be imminent.
“If the US is bent on having its own way, China will take resolute countermeasures,” he vowed.
Coming just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games, the Winter Olympics will be held from Feb 4 to Feb 20 in a “closed loop” bubble because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“To be honest, Chinese are relieved to hear the news, because the fewer US officials come, the fewer viruses will be brought in,” tweeted the Chinese state-owned tabloid newspaper, Global Times.