US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed China’s human rights violations against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, criticising China for human rights abuses and saying that global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority.
The speaker’s provoked a fierce response from China on Wednesday, with a government spokesman calling on US politicians to stop using the “Olympic movement to play despicable political games”.
Legislators in the United States have been increasingly vocal about an Olympic boycott or venue change.
They have also lashed out at American corporations, arguing the firms’ silence about what the US State Department has deemed China’s genocidal actions against Uighur and other ethnic minorities was abetting the Chinese government.
Pelosi, a Democrat, told a bipartisan congressional hearing on the issue on Tuesday that heads of state around the world should shun the games, scheduled for February.
US legislators have been increasingly vocal about an Olympic boycott or venue change [File: Andy Wong/AP Photo] 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.
Uighur people watching a dance performance at the International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang region [File: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo] Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern said 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.
Demands for some form of boycott of the Beijing Games are growing.
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.
China condemned the boycott calls as politicising sport.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, slammed Pelosi’s comments on Wednesday, saying: “Some US individuals’ remarks are full of lies and disinformation.”
Last month, Republican Senator Mitt Romney introduced an amendment that would implement a US diplomatic boycott [File: Susan Walsh/Pool via AP] The White House has stopped short of backing a boycott, which is also strongly opposed by American athletes.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it hopes to develop a joint approach with allies on participation in the Beijing Olympics, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly said the issue has not yet been broached in discussions.
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.
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.