US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi has slammed China’s human rights violations against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, saying that global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority.
US legislators have been increasingly vocal about an Olympic boycott or venue change, lashing out at American corporations for supporting China, arguing their silence about what the US State Department has deemed genocide against Uighur and other ethnic minorities in China was abetting the Chinese government.
Pelosi, a Democrat, told a bipartisan congressional hearing on the issue on Tuesday, May 18, that heads of state around the world should shun the games, scheduled for February.
Pelosi said she was proposing “a diplomatic boycott” in which “lead countries of the world withhold their attendance at the Olympics”.
“Let’s not honour the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China,” Pelosi said.
“For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing – while you’re sitting there in your seat – really begs the question, what moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world?” she said.
An independent United Nations panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least one million Uighur and other Muslims had been held in camps in China’s western Xinjiang region. Beijing describes the camps as vocational training centres that aim to stamp out “extremism” and strongly rejects accusations of abuse and genocide.
Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern added that the games should be relocated.
“If we can postpone an Olympics by a year for a pandemic, we can surely postpone the Olympics for a year for a genocide,” said McGovern, referring to the decision by Japan and the International Olympic Committee to delay the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This would give the IOC time to relocate to a country whose government is not committing atrocities,” McGovern said.
Last month, Republican Senator Mitt Romney introduced an amendment to broader legislation to counter China that would implement a US diplomatic boycott, while a coalition of human rights activists on Tuesday called for athletes to boycott the games and put pressure on the IOC.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it hopes to develop a joint approach with allies on participation in the Beijing Olympics.
Asked about Pelosi’s comments, a senior Biden administration official told the Reuters news agency that its position on the 2022 Olympics had not changed.
But proponents of US athletes competing at the Olympics say it would be unfair to punish athletes, and that the games would provide a platform for the US, which has one of the highest Winter Olympic medal counts, to show its vitality on the global stage.
Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive officer of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), said in a written statement to the congressional hearing that the USOPC was concerned about the “oppression of the Uyghur population”, but that barring US athletes from the games was “certainly not the answer”.
“Past Olympic boycotts have failed to achieve political ends – and they should give all of us pause in considering another boycott,” she said.
An annual report from the National Bureau of Statistics of China showed a sharp and sudden decline in birth rates in Xinjiang amid reports of mass internment and population control of the Muslim Uighurs.