Zhao Lijian has said a boycott of Beijing 2022 would receive a robust response ©Getty Images

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned of a robust response should the United States opt to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games amid ongoing concerns over human rights in the host nation.

The prospect of a boycott gained traction earlier this week in the US after comments from Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department.

Price said a boycott was "something that we wish to discuss" with allies amid ongoing criticism of China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang.

Campaigners have claimed China’s actions amount to a genocide.

The State Department, the US Government's office for foreign policy and international relations, later offered a clarification.

"Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed", said a State Department official.

"We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the country has noted clarifications from the US and continued China’s denial of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

"I stress once again that the allegation of 'forced labour' in Xinjiang is the most outrageous lie of the century," Zhao said at a daily press conference.

"We've presented the true situation in Xinjiang on multiple occasions.

"The wheels will come off for the US if it continues to turn a blind eye to facts and truth, and attack and malign China based on deliberate lies.

"This will not only hurt US reputation and interests but also meet with the resolute opposition of the Chinese people and the forceful responses from the Chinese side.

"As to the so-called rhetoric about boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, I would also like to stress that politicisation of sports runs counter to the spirit of the Olympic Charter and harms the interests of all athletes as well as the international Olympic cause.

"The international community, including the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, will not buy it.

"We have every confidence that with concerted efforts, we will host an extraordinary and outstanding Olympic event in Beijing in 2022."

Human rights concerns have hung over preparations for Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images
Human rights concerns have hung over preparations for Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

Tensions between the US and China are strained, with American authorities joining the European Union, Canada and United Kingdom in imposing sanctions on China last month in response to alleged abuses of human rights in Xinjiang.

China issued a series of sanctions in response.

China has been accused of crimes including using forced Uyghur labour, operating a mass surveillance programme, detaining thousands in internment camps, carrying out forced sterilisations and intentionally destroying Uyghur heritage.

Beijing claims the camps are training centres designed to stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and denies the charges laid against it.

China's record on human rights - including in Tibet and Hong Kong - is coming under increasing scrutiny as the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics near.

There have been calls both for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to strip China of hosting rights for the Games and for other countries to boycott them.

IOC President Thomas Bach is another believer that boycotts do not work and has repeatedly called for unity.

Speaking after the IOC Session last month, Bach insisted the organisation was not a "super-world Government" that can solve global issues, when questioned about a group of human rights activists holding an "Alternative Olympic Session" to highlight their concerns with Beijing's hosting of the Games.

Any boycott would likely involve politicians and dignitaries, rather than athletes.

Beijing is set to become the first city to stage the Summer and Winter Olympics when the Games open on February 4 next year - less than six months after the conclusion of Tokyo 2020.

Competitions are due to be staged in three main clusters - Beijing itself, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.