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President Joe Biden has announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Monday, noting that no U.S. officials will attend but American athletes will still be competing in the games. The boycott is meant to send a message of disapproval for China's record on human rights.
"The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic games given the [People's Republic of China's] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses," Psaki said at a Monday briefing.
She continued: "The athletes on team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games."
The games begin Feb. 4 and close Feb. 20.
High-level dignitaries are typically sent to watch the Games, root for their country's athletes and get a close look at the host country's achievements in technology and development. First Lady Jill Biden led the U.S. contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year.
Even before the U.S. boycott was officially confirmed, Beijing had already threatened "firm countermeasures."
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry told reporters Monday that the move would be an "outright political provocation," according to the AP, though he offered no details on how his country might issue payback for a diplomatic boycott.
China has the ability to influence much of Biden's agenda. Issues like the supply chain problems, climate change and U.S. policy toward North Korea, Iran and other geopolitically sensitive areas are interconnected with Asia's most powerful nation.
"Without being invited, American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is purely wishful thinking and grandstanding," Zhao said during a press briefing.
Photo by Dylan Martinez - Pool/Getty Images First Lady Jill Biden at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday
Biden previously said in November his administration was considering a boycott — not long after a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Officials said that meeting, which lasted more than three hours, was "respectful and straightforward" but the leaders of the world's two biggest economies didn't reach any major breakthroughs.
One senior administration official told CNN the men had a "healthy debate" in November, and Biden raised his concerns about human rights, trade and Taiwan.
Officials also said that Xi didn't take the opportunity to personally invite the U.S. president to the Winter Olympics in China.
Zhao also said Monday the potential boycott would be "a stain on the spirit of the Olympic charter."
More than 40 years ago during Jimmy Carter's presidency, the U.S. fully boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, the Soviet Union and its allies retaliated with a boycott of the Summer Games in Los Angeles.