With the Bejing Olympics approaching this summer, the rest of the world is being put in the awkward position of deciding how to best avoid appearing to condone China's less than stellar record on human rights, particularly as it relates to Tibet and Sudan. Even the Olympic torch relay (which somehow gets coverage each year despite being really boring) is drawing fire as protesters disrupt the run to make their point clear. Columnists are opining both for and against a boycott of various Olympic ceremonies (and that's just in Newsweek).
Here's my take on the whole mess: it doesn't much matter. There's no telling exactly how China would take a boycott, but it's a pretty good bet that not sending our athletes to the games or our leader to the opening ceremonies isn't going to make China say, "My God! What we're doing is wrong! We'd sure better knock it off." Remember, the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Russia because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Our boycott didn't do much beyond cause the Russians to boycott the 1984 games in Los Angeles. So we call it a draw and, oh yeah, Afghanistan was still invaded. (It took Tom Hanks to get that one worked out.)
My worry about a boycott of one sort or another is that it would substitute for real, meaningful action on very important issues. Clearly something has to be done in Sudan and the situation in Tibet is a mess. But these take real solutions, not pretend symbolic solutions. We should never confuse action for actually doing something.