China on Monday threatened to take "firm countermeasures" if the U.S. proceeds with a diplomatic boycott of February's Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused U.S. politicians of grandstanding over the issue of not sending dignitaries to attend the events that China hopes will showcase its economic development and technological prowess.
Speaking to reporters at a daily briefing, Zhao said such a move would be an "outright political provocation," but gave no details on how China would retaliate.
President Joe Biden has said he is considering a boycott, under which American athletes would still compete, and an announcement is expected this week. Supporters of such a step cite China's poor record on human rights as justification, saying China is using the games to whitewash its ill treatment of civil rights activists, political dissidents and ethnic minorities.
"Without being invited, American politicians keep hyping the so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic, which is purely wishful thinking and grandstanding," Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
"If the U.S. side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermeasures," Zhao said.
The dispatching of high-level delegations to each Olympics has long been a tradition among the U.S. and other leading nations — then-president George W. Bush attended the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games. First lady Jill Biden led the American contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year and second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.
The possibility of a diplomatic boycott comes as the U.S. attempts to stabilize turbulent relations with Beijing, even as it maintains a tough approach toward trade frictions and conflicts over China's actions on Taiwan, human rights, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Beijing has mounted a stiff response to all U.S. criticisms, denouncing them as interference in its internal affairs and slapping visa bans on American politicians it regards as anti-China.
It wasn't clear who the U.S. might have sent to Beijing for the games and Zhao's comments appeared to indicate that China has not extended any invitations.
Australia, whose ties with China have nosedived over a range of disputes, has also raised the possibility of a diplomatic boycott.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.