Should The U.S. Boycott Winter Olympics In Beijing? Democratic Institutions Must Make Clear Where They Stand

On Tuesday, April 5th, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price was quoted saying that the U.S. would consider a joint boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which are set to commence on February 4th, 2022.

The idea of an international boycott of the 2022 Games has been floated around before and it could be a meaningful way to draw further attention to the human rights abuses happening in the Xinjiang province. The Biden administration has also frequently spoken out against the Chinese government, even going as far as to label their treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang a genocide. Less than a day after the initial news from the U.S. State Department, however, the government officials backtracked and Ned Pierce took to Twitter to clarify that his previous statement had been misinterpreted and there were no plans for a joint boycott.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) reiterated the inutility of a boycott, claiming that while the situation in China was dire, previous sporting boycotts had rarely achieved anything. The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach agreed, stating that an international boycott would only deprive various athletes of reaching accomplishments they had been working towards their entire lives. In the past, Bach himself lost a chance to defend his fencing title when West Germany boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

Although the IOC holds observer status at the UN, Bach has stressed the organization’s intent to remain neutral in this question. The so-far lukewarm support for policing China for their wrongdoings in Tibet, Hong Kong, and against the Uyghur Muslims, means that the brunt of the work ahead falls on international human rights activists and organizations once again. In late March, around 190 of these groups targeted major sponsors of the 2022 Olympics: Coca-Cola, Visa, Samsung, and Airbnb among others. One such campaign saw activists publish open letters to the CEOs of these firms, calling them to withdraw from current sponsorship deals or risk tainting their reputation.

U.S. senator Mitt Romney and other high-profile political figures have called for a diplomatic boycott of the Games instead as it is considered somewhat unlikely that the U.S. will fully boycott the upcoming Olympics. As an alternative, the U.S., Canada, and other Western powers might not venture into Beijing with a full delegation next February instead.

However, this is not enough. Over the past few years, the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs, placing many of them in “re-educational camps.” These camps which China has reportedly called “training centres” have subjected prisoners to mass torture and sterilization practices as well as cultural and political indoctrination. Around 500,000 Uyghur children have been separated from their parents and transferred to orphanages.

China has not allowed independent foreign observers access to the camps and has called the allegations of genocide a bald-faced lie. Meanwhile, they have also expressed political support for the previous Myanmar government where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya another Muslim minority group, were forced to flee after the government attacks against them in the Rakhine State of Myanmar in 2017.

It is understandable that Western governments are afraid of China’s wrath and are therefore afraid to take further steps regarding the Beijing Olympics. But international organizations and Western democracies must also have a conscience. The upcoming Winter Olympics provides an excellent opportunity to send a clear message that the U.S. and its allies do not tolerate violence.

China must be held accountable for its atrocities in Hong Kong, Tibet, and its crimes against Uyghur Muslims. It is the responsibility of the entire international community to work towards making this happen.

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