In a few months, Beijing will stage the 2022 Winter Olympics. U.S. athletes are set to participate. Nothing like the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in the Soviet Union is likely to occur.
Neither participation nor a boycott is an attractive option. Red China is an oppressive, totalitarian state. Participation by our athletes implies that the regime deserves the honor of hosting Olympic games, which it does not. Our participation could be viewed as accepting genocide.
However, a government instituted boycott by our athletes would punish them for China’s sins. It would also be a huge insult to China. And it wouldn’t change China’s oppressive policies.
The insult would be well deserved. However, our relationship with the regime is complicated by the interdependence of the two nations — something that wasn’t a problem in 1980 when we insulted the Soviets.
To avoid choosing between these two highly unpleasant options, the Biden administration reportedly will adopt a third course — a “diplomatic boycott.” Our athletes would participate, but as a protest against China’s human rights abuses, neither Joe Biden nor any other U.S. government officials would attend the Games.
Biden’s favored middle course avoids the main objections to the alternatives. Our athletes aren’t punished for Red China’s human rights violations. And because we aren’t really punishing the Chinese, we don’t risk incurring significant consequences.
However, because it neither punishes China nor sacrifices anything at our end, a “diplomatic boycott” is a largely meaningless gesture. It would tend to reinforce the well-founded perception that Joe Biden isn’t serious.
If it were my decision, I would opt for either regular participation or a full boycott — probably the latter, but I’m still not sure. The half-measure (to be generous) Biden seems to favor, and which Nancy Pelosi and Mitt Romney have recommended, ranks third on my preference list.