US athletes have been advised not to speak out against China as the 2022 Beijing Olympics gets underway.
Her remarks came a day ahead of the opening ceremony for the games being held in Beijing – the first city to host both a summer and winter Olympics – on Friday.
“I would say to our athletes – you are there to compete,” said Ms Pelosi. “Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless. Be safe.”
The Democrat, who was speaking in front of a congressional commission on China, went on to praise US President Joe Biden for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics on Thursday.
She had been among the most vocal supporters of the ban on US diplomats heading to Beijing – in what many argued was an effective endorsement of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
China, who has rebuffed allegations of a poor record on human rights and freedoms, has hit back at the US and others ahead of its two-week sporting event.
In a rebuttal of the diplomatic boycott in December, China called the US’s decision an act of “political posturing and manipulation” and even claimed that it had not invited officials.
Countries including the UK, New Zealand, and the Netherlands have also decided against sending diplomats to the games and opening ceremony – as is standard for the Olympics.
On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also came in for criticism from Ms Pelosi, who she argued had turned “a blind eye” to China’s human rights record by awarding the 2022 games to Beijing.
That includes an alleged genocide carried out against Muslims Uyghurs in a province in northwest China, Xinjiang.
An UK-based tribunal ruled last year that mass imprisonment and sterilisations of Uyghurs were a genocide, following similar conclusions made by the UK and US governments.
Sarah Hirshland, the head of Team USA, meanwhile admitted to briefing athletes on China’s laws and customs, but did not go as far as attacking the country’s record on human rights.
“The piece of the comments she made that I was grateful for was, she wished Team USA good luck and said they’ve got the support of their country, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Ms Hirshland said of the House Speaker.
Around 80 per cent of Team USA’s athletes were due to take part in the opening ceremony amid tight Covid protocols for the games.
Additional reporting by Reuters.