Opinion | The diplomatic boycott is the best response to Beijing and the IOC
Nader Hussein, Press Secretary/Communications Director
TW| Genocide, torture, rape
We are less than a week from the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics set to take place in Beijing, and these Games have already proven to be among the most controversial in recent memory. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, environmental debates, and cybersecurity concerns all loom over the Games, but perhaps none have garnered more attention and scrutiny than China’s horrific human rights record.
The Chinese Communist Party’s violent crackdown against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, their persecution of Tibetan Buddhists and the systematic genocide of Uyghur Muslim minorities occurring in Xinjiang are all stains on the record of these games, and have led to an international response not seen for nearly 40 years. 10 countries have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games, and the International Olympic Committee has been justifiably criticized for their milquetoast response.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki outlined the Biden Administration’s approach on December 6, saying, “The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” She added, “The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games. U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual in the face of [China’s] egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we simply can’t do that.”
As a Muslim and a sports fan, I believe that this is the best response to the IOC’s farcical decision to hold these Games in Beijing. A full boycott would not be fair to the nearly 200 athletes who have been training their whole lives to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage, and no boycott at all would be far too complacent in the face of Beijing’s genocide and the IOC’s outrageous apathy.
The Biden Administration has been consistently conscious of and staunchly opposed to China’s gross human rights violations, in stark contrast to their predecessors. Whereas Donald Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping “a great leader who happens to be a brilliant man,” and claimed that he “behaved very responsibly” in dealing with protests in Hong Kong, President Biden has rightfully called Xi Jinping “a thug” and said that he “doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body” while consistently bringing up the plight of religious minorities in China. While the Trump Administration cowardly waited until their final day to label China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as a genocide, likely only to complicate the incoming Biden Administration’s relationship, President Biden declared it long before the election.
It is estimated that more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims in China have been incarcerated in a series of government concentration camps with no due process. Many have been subjected to slave labor, forced sterilization and abortion, rape, torture and more as China attempts to eliminate all identity that is not fully submissive to Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP denies and downplays their atrocities through state-sponsored media as well as collaborating with non-Chinese figures to spread misinformation. Media outlets such as The Greyzone are regularly cited by Chinese government officials, serving as willing mouthpieces for the repressive regime, and the self-described “grassroots peace and social justice movement,” Code Pink, regularly walks a tight line between denial and whitewashing.
Even more shameful than the outright denial of China’s crimes against humanity is the IOC’s “neutral stance” on what it calls a “political issue.” Genocide is not a political issue, and treating it as such is a cowardly position to take to deny the obvious truth; that the IOC doesn’t care. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the IOC has awarded Olympic Games to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, again hiding behind apoliticism. The IOC acknowledges that hosting the Olympics is a privilege, so what is awarding the Games to China if not a reward?
The IOC has also shown a blatant disregard for the rights of the athletes set to compete in the Games. China has threatened that anyone who does or says anything they don’t like will be subject to punishment, and the “health monitoring” app that all athletes will be required to use allows users to report “politically sensitive” content, including a censorship keyword system.
The app, which cybersecurity experts have warned is riddled with vulnerabilities, as well as other security and surveillance concerns, have led to multiple countries warning athletes and personnel against bringing personal devices. They have recommended that those traveling to and participating in the Games use “burner” phones and devices. China maintains a comprehensive surveillance state, using facial recognition to identify Uyghurs. and monitoring interpersonal communication to allow them to silence critics and carry out their abuses.
The IOC can be called nothing if not hypocritical for its decision to award the Games to Beijing and its defense of said decision. Their own charter describes the goal of Olympism as “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Where is their concern for the dignity of the people of Hong Kong, Tibet or the Uyghurs? How does blessing a genocidal state promote a peaceful society?
The Biden Administration is right to take a stand against China’s human rights violations and the IOC’s enabling, without punishing all the athletes who dream of nothing more than to represent the United States.