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U.S. has announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.S. athletes may be going to Winter Olympics in Beijing in two months. U.S. officials will not be. The Biden administration announced today it will not send diplomatic representatives to China for the Olympics, citing the, quote, "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity." NPR's China correspondent John Ruwitch has been following along.

Welcome back to the program.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: Give us the details. What exactly did the administration say?

RUWITCH: So this is a diplomatic boycott, right? They said that they are not going to send any official representation to the games. So for the Summer Games in Tokyo earlier this year, First Lady Jill Biden attended the opening ceremony. At the last Winter Games in South Korea, then-Vice President Mike Pence went. This time, there's going to be no U.S. government representation or presence at all.

Athletes will be allowed to participate, though. Team USA will be there. And the - so the consensus is that the other full boycott in 1980 to protest Russian aggression in Afghanistan didn't really solve anything, and it just penalized the athletes.

This move from the White House isn't really surprising. The U.S. Congress has been pushing for it, and the Biden administration was under a lot of pressure to act. You know, it also has labeled Beijing's actions out in Xinjiang as genocide and crimes against humanity. So, you know, there's a sense that it's hard not to do something here.

CORNISH: But what do they hope to achieve?

RUWITCH: Well, they're signaling that human rights continue to be important to them, that China's treatment of its minorities and, in particular, the Uighurs is unacceptable and that there's a price to pay. But it's largely symbolic.

I spoke with Toby Rider about this. He's a professor at Cal State Fullerton who's written about sports and politics. And he says this probably won't have much effect on China's human rights, and it's relatively low stakes for the Biden administration.

TOBY RIDER: They get to present this image of toughness, and yet it's really not at any - I don't see it being at a huge amount of cost. So, you know, at a difficult time in the Biden administration, it might be seen as a good way to puff out their chest with China.

RUWITCH: A key thing to watch out for here is how many other countries join the U.S. in this diplomatic boycott. Others have been talking about it, and the U.S. has been pushing allies to join in.

It's worth remembering also that this comes at a time when we're seeing an unusual amount of criticism of China and its human rights record from elsewhere in the sports world. And I'm talking about the case of Peng Shuai here. She's a tennis star who accused a senior leader of sexual assault, and her well-being's in question, and the world - the Women's Tennis Association has taken a strong stand on it.

CORNISH: Now, the cost at home and with athletes basically may not be that big, but what's the reaction going to be in China?

RUWITCH: The Foreign Ministry spokesman breathed a little fire over this earlier today. This was before the announcement from the White House. He said that the U.S., which hasn't even been invited yet, needs to stop politicizing sports and stop hyping the issue, that it could hurt dialogue and cooperation in other areas. And he warned that China would take, quote, "resolute countermeasures if this comes to pass."

Well, it has. It's unclear what China means by that. Los Angeles is due to host the Summer Olympics in 2028, and it's doubtful that China's going to wait that long to retaliate.

CORNISH: The U.S. and Chinese leaders held talks to stabilize this relationship. Is that going to cause further rifts?

RUWITCH: It could. It's going to cause rancor, for sure. I mean, on the Xinjiang issue, China denies that it's committed any atrocities out there. It's going to feel that this is just another weapon that Washington's wielding from its armory to try to spoil China's party, cast a shadow over the Olympics and really turn global opinion against it.

CORNISH: That's NPR's John Ruwitch.

Thanks so much.

RUWITCH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.