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White House announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights concerns

President Joe Biden was considering the move last month under mounting pressure from lawmakers.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. will stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over concerns about China's record on human rights, the White House said Monday.

"The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing, referring to the People's Republic of China.

A diplomatic boycott means that no U.S. government officials will attend the Games but that U.S. athletes will still be allowed to compete.

China has come under fire for cracking down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, for its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan and for detaining and abusing Muslim Uyghurs in the country's Xinjiang province.

Some Republican lawmakers, who have grown increasingly hawkish toward China, have been pressuring the Biden administration to boycott the Games or push for China's host status to be revoked and for the Games to be moved. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., urged the administration last month to boycott the Games, including keeping U.S. athletes from competing.

Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for an open Senate seat in Ohio, said Monday that the diplomatic boycott falls short.

"I’m glad to see the Biden Administration take steps to hold China accountable, but this diplomatic boycott does not go far enough," Ryan said in a statement. "China has demonstrated again and again that they do not deserve the honor associated with hosting the Olympics, and the Games should be hosted elsewhere.”

Calls for either a diplomatic or full boycott of the Winter Games have grown since the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public view for three weeks after she made sexual assault allegations against a former senior official of the Chinese Communist Party.

Peng has reappeared, but questions remain about whether she is acting on her own free will.

Some see a diplomatic boycott as the best way to hold China to account without punishing athletes who have been training for years.

Psaki said the Biden administration had informed U.S. allies of its decision and would leave it to individual countries to make their own decisions. She added that the administration did not want to “penalize” U.S. athletes by barring them from participating and felt that a diplomatic boycott would send a clear message.

In an opinion piece in March, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said prohibiting U.S. athletes from competing would be "unfair" and "counterproductive."

"The right answer is an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics," he said.

Romney applauded the White House's decision following Psaki's announcement, saying in a tweet, "America will not turn a blind eye to China's predation, persecution, and genocide."

China warned Monday that it would take “resolute countermeasures” to any boycott.

“The Winter Olympics is not a stage for political show and political manipulation,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry. A boycott would be “a naked political provocation, and a serious offense to the 1.4 billion Chinese people.”