China on Thursday accused the United States of "holding hostage" the right of athletes to participate in the Winter Olympics after Washington warned Beijing would use the Games to hide human rights abuses.

The run-up to the Games, due to be held early 2022 in Beijing, is being dominated by politics.

Human rights groups and some US politicians have urged a boycott, pointing to China's mass internment of ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang and other allegations of abuse.

The United States warned Wednesday that Beijing was poised to use the Games to whitewash alleged rights abuses.

Dan Nadel, a US official who works on religious freedom, said Washington is reviewing its options in "countering Beijing's intent to use the Games as a platform to somehow validate their governing model and paper over their gross human rights violations".

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying hit back at Nadel's comments and also took issue with an annual US report on religious freedom concerns in China, saying Washington had "no right to accuse China on the human rights issue".

China's National Alpine Ski Centre, a venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
China's National Alpine Ski Centre, a venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics AFP / WANG Zhao

Hua said America's own record on rights was "very shameful" and that claims of abuses were an attempt to "interfere in China's internal affairs".

"Those politicians in the US have no right to hold hostage their own athletes' right to participate in a fair competition," Hua told reporters.

Nadel said the Chinese government has "turned Xinjiang into an open-air camp" where people's movements are "closely tracked".

US President Joe Biden's administration has stopped short of backing a boycott of the Games, an idea strongly opposed by US athletes and one seen as unlikely to gain widespread support among other Western nations.

The United States accuses China of carrying out genocide in Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic people are estimated to be held in camps.

China denies the existence of the camps, instead calling them vocational schools and part of a counter-terrorism effort. It accuses Western critics of hypocrisy and points to their own histories of racism and colonialism.