Growing calls to boycott Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record

By James Moules

ACTIVISTS are calling for a boycott – or even the outright cancellation – of the upcoming Winter Olympics in China over the nation’s treatment of minorities.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Beijing hosting rights for the 2022 Olympic Games in 2015 – a move that is set to make the Chinese capital the first city to hold both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

However, in the wake of China’s reported human rights violations, numerous politicians and campaigners in the UK are calling for a boycott of the games.

The ongoing repression in Xinjiang, where it is reported that more than one million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in camps and subjected to torture and forced labour, is one of the main reasons cited.

On February 24, 2021, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Today, millions of Uyghur people in China live in fear under a cruel regime. The BBC, international media and human rights non-governmental organisations are all reporting on forced labour camps, women being raped and sterilised, and families being separated.

“This is a genocide happening in front of our eyes. So does the Prime Minister agree with me that, unless China ends this genocide, Britain and Team GB should boycott the winter Olympics in Beijing next year?”

While asserting support for human rights in China, the Prime Minister said: “We are not normally in favour of sporting boycotts in this country, and that has been the long-standing position of this Government.”

Redaction Politics contacted the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign UK, which is calling for the games to be cancelled.

David Ball, an organiser for the campaign said: “We would like to see maximum pressure now on the International Olympic Committee to cancel the games. Or, better, to give an ultimatum to China to release the million or more people held extra-judicially in concentration camps, close the camps, end the other repressive measures, and open up the Uyghur region to genuine independent inspection and free journalism.”

Beijing previously hosted the Olympic Games in 2008 – which was also preceded by calls for boycotts over human rights issues in China, such as the crackdown on peaceful protests in Tibet.

“The Olympics are seen as conferring prestige and kudos on the host government. A campaign to pressure the IOC to cancel the Beijing winter games has particular advantages compared with some other measures,” David Ball said.

“The Chinese state really wants the Olympics. The problem with expecting a general trade boycott is that sanctions are likely to hurt China’s trading partners more than they hurt the CCP regime. That’s why so many governments are willing allies of China, standing by it against accusations of abusing human rights. Those economies need China more than China needs them.

“But the Olympics are always a matter of states being willing to pay a high price to improve their standing in the world. The Chinese government has invested billions on this sport-diplomacy offensive.

“Depriving it of this opportunity, and for reasons of Uyghur human rights, would be a major boost to building the solidarity the Uyghur people need, from grassroots movements to politicians and governments around the world.”

The campaign No Rights, No Games launched a petition urging the IOC to strip China of its Olympic hosting rights if the Uyghur internment camps are not shut down.

In the petition statement, they say: “The IOC has a clear responsibility to ensure that the Olympic Games are held in a country that respects international norms. If China maintains its internment camp policy into 2022, they are not a fit host.”

The World Uyghur Congress has also called for a boycott.

But Dick Pound, a former vice-president of the IOC, said that a boycott would have “no impact whatsoever,” telling the BBC: “The decision on hosting is not made with a view to signalling approval of a government policy.”

When asked in parliament on March 2, 2021, Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams reiterated the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s stance and said that the question of a boycott was a matter for the British Olympics Association.

He said: “We are leading international action, including at the UN, to hold China to account. We have led from the front. We have an increasing cohort of countries supporting our statements on the happenings in Xinjiang.

“This is a matter for the British Olympic Association and the individual sportsmen. The British Olympic Association is required to operate independently of Government, and rightly so, under the regulations set down by the International Olympic Committee.”

A British Olympic Association spokesperson said: “We fully support the Prime Minister’s view on the matter of sporting boycotts. We do not believe that boycotting the Olympic Winter Games is the right solution and feel that the athletes who have trained all their lives for this moment should be able to go and compete and represent their country. As we saw in Moscow in 1980, sporting boycotts don’t work. They penalise the athletes whilst leaving the greater political problems unaddressed or unsolved.”

The Chinese government denies human rights abuses and insists that the camps are educational facilities. However, numerous reports into the matter have suggested that Uyghurs have been the victims of torture, sexual violence, forced sterilisation and more.

Outlining the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign UK’s broader aims, David Ball continued: “We want to mobilise the biggest movement in solidarity with the Uyghurs, but we have to be consistent on democracy, freedom and human rights. So we have no time for cold-war hawks and nationalists who are using this issue to ramp up the tension against a rival world power, but who side with brutal state oppression and violence against migrants and racial minorities in the West.

“Having said that, we support attempts, even in the United States, to write into law measures which force companies to audit their supply chains and cut links with suppliers using Uyghur forced labour. We support calls for the corporations found to be profiting from slavery to pay reparations to exiled Uyghur communities.

“And we support the call for the genocide amendment to the trade bill in the UK, even while warning against having any faith and trust in the UK courts to reach an honest judgment. They will come under pressure to set a very high bar for a genocide determination – the Johnson government will prioritise trade over human rights. We will continue to campaign in solidarity with the Uyghur people regardless of any such judgment.”

Featured Image: Pixabay

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