U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, doubled down on his call for an “economic and diplomatic” boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics and condemned human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday.

Romney, who has been credited for playing a large role in the success of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City after taking over a bribery-tainted Salt Lake Olympic organizing committee, argued in a March 15th op-ed that “prohibiting our athletes from competing in China is the easy, but wrong answer” and called on American spectators to stay home and for U.S. officials to invite “Chinese dissidents, religious leaders and ethnic minorities to represent us” at the games.

The senator repeated his call for an economic and diplomatic boycott while still allowing American athletes to compete during a virtual town hall hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition about “the importance of American global leadership to address critical national priorities,” according to a description of the event.

“I would hate to tell our athletes, ‘You can’t compete in the Olympics,’ ” the senator said. “And the reason for that is (that) I learned something about the extraordinary sacrifice these athletes in the United States have made, typically their entire lives. And oftentimes their entire family sacrifices to help a young person become an Olympian.”

Romney continued, “I would rather boycott the Chinese Olympics diplomatically and economically. So don’t send a group of high-visibility American diplomats. Perhaps send some Chinese dissidents and some minorities and some others to make a statement.”

Romney added that he wants to make “absolutely certain that our athletes are not going to get held in China after the games are over” if they say something critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

“I want to make sure there’s an absolute ironclad guarantee that no American athlete, spectator, a coach and so forth will be held in China once those games are over,” he said.

Romney also answered questions from a handful of his Utah constituents, including Jenny Nelson, senior vice president of Innovation Partnerships at Dairy West, which represents the dairy industry in Utah and Idaho, who said that “Utah is very much an ag state” and “we help feed the world.”

Nelson asked about what the U.S. is doing to improve global agricultural trade and partnerships, noting that China has been “stepping up their game” in this regard.

Romney responded that “we very much want to be able to sell our goods and services to China and will look to improve our trade relations and to provide to them things which they desperately need.” He added that “we are able to grow and provide agricultural products in a way that China cannot.”

More broadly, the senator said “we have to work on a strategic basis, meaning we have to have a grand strategy that encompasses everything from our economy, our food, our military, our geopolitical ambitions, our work at the U.N.”

Lew Cramer, president and CEO of Colliers International in Utah, asked Romney about how to “ensure that our rhetoric (about the Chinese Communist Party) doesn’t turn into negativity toward Asian Americans generally.”

The question came amid reports of violence across the country against people of Asian heritage, including a mass shooting that killed eight people at massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I think it’s incumbent on the president and leaders of all kinds to make it very clear that we welcome Asians as legal immigrants, we certainly welcome Asian Americans,” Romney responded.

The virtual town hall was moderated by Liz Schrayer, president and CEO of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and Peter Roskam, a former Republican U.S. representative from Illinois.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!