Do you care about human rights? Demand a boycott of the Beijing Olympics!


A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China on November 16, 2021. REUTERS / Tingshu Wang – Why won’t the United States and its allies confront China for its genocide against the Uyghurs? Everyone is afraid of Beijing and no one wants to cost the multinationals dearly. This is the most obvious explanation for the willingness of the civilized world to simultaneously recognize that the most egregious violations of human rights – involving murder, rape, forced sterilization, slavery and forced transfers of population far from home – occur in China while doing nothing about it.

To his credit, during a four hour virtual summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Joe Biden raised the issue of human rights abuses in Xinjiang province where the Uyghurs are oppressed, as well as China’s persistent criminal behavior in Tibet and its suppression of the democracy in Hong Kong, which she had pledged to respect when the British abandoned their former colony. But Biden’s gentle reminders of those atrocities while trying to smooth out relations with the man he called his “old friend” (the kind of obsequious gesture towards a hostile regime that was always harshly criticized when the former President Donald Trump did) stopped short of indicating that he was in fact going to treat the genocide as something worth more than a rhetorical gesture.

Indeed, this is the best Biden is prepared to do even if the West has a perfect opportunity to exert some leverage over China in the coming months.

Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in February, and the Communist Party regime sees extravagance as yet another opportunity to assert both dominance and legitimacy on the world stage. The threat of a boycott of the show by the United States with or without its allies joining the effort could have compelled China to take at least a few steps to end its crimes against the Uyghurs – not to mention withdraw from its threats to Taiwan, whose airspace it has flown over in a campaign of intimidation.

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But rather than learn a lesson from the mistake Western nations made in 1936 when they allowed Adolf Hitler to put on a show that glorified the Nazi regime during the Berlin Olympics, bolstering its prestige and legitimacy, few people want to tip the Olympic boat.

While most of the excuses for not taking a stand on the Olympics are attributed to the desire not to punish the athletes by taking away the only showcase that most of the sports involved in the quadrennial event get, the real reason is the money. The biggest corporate sponsors of the games are not only heavily invested in the two-week TV show, they also don’t want anything to disrupt the business they do in China, which it says. Bloomberg, amounts to approximately $ 110 billion.

Not wishing to be seen as a violation of her administration’s claim to prioritize human rights, Biden’s foreign policy team is launching a proposal in which it will investigate “Diplomatic boycott” games rather than a real one. This means that the representatives of the US government will not be there, even though everyone – the athletes, the television networks and their sponsors – will be there in full force. It is an empty gesture involving people who will not be missed. It’s actually worse than doing nothing.

There are those who oppose what they claim to inject politics into sport. But this is a specious argument. The Olympics, with their flags and anthems, are already inundated with politics and always have been. Every dictatorship that has hosted an Olympics has gained political clout with a show meant to make them look good, though there have been a few hiccups along the way.

Specifically, authoritarian regimes like China never hesitate to use sport to intimidate their own people and others.

An example emerged this week when Beijing disappeared Peng Shuai, one of the main Chinese tennis players. Once one of the best players in singles and now one of the best in the world in doubles (a Wimbledon champion), she made the mistake of speaking out publicly about the sexual assault of former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Chinese minister and member of the Chinese Communist Party. Politburo. Instead of her #MeToo accusation embarrassing the regime, she’s the one in trouble. Shortly after posting her statement on a Chinese social media platform, it was deleted and Peng vanished from sight. Chinese state media then published an email purportedly from Peng denying the allegations and calling on international tennis officials to stop interfering. There is no doubt that Peng, a big sports celebrity in China, is under arrest and forced to disown what happened to her.

China has used the financial leverage its huge market offers to sports leagues like the National Basketball Association, which have been intimidated and silenced over oppression, even as some courageous figures attempt to speak out against what is happening to Uyghurs.

So, leaving aside the issue of acquiescence to the genocide, this incident makes it clear that in China, even privileged sports figures are not exempt from the type of gross oppression inflicted on ordinary people there. The idea that he should be allowed to host an international sporting event like the Olympics while he is holding an athlete hostage to cover up a government sex scandal is outrageous. Some in the tennis world have spoken, but it’s unclear whether any of them will boycott Chinese tournaments or their own lucrative trade deals with that country until Peng is released and free to speak. of what happened to him. It also doesn’t appear that anyone involved in the Winter Olympics is interested enough to consider it worthy of more than a token demonstration.

If the Biden administration, American business and the sports world are too venal and cowardly to challenge China, then it is up to those groups and organizations that have always treated human rights as a priority to do what they can to ensure that the Uyghurs, Peng Shuai or what may be millions incarcerated in the laogai – the Chinese version of the Soviet Union gulags – are considered no less important than a competition organized for world television.

Among those who should speak the loudest is the Jewish community.

The release this month of a report of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on the genocide against the Uyghurs should be enough to convince all major movements and organizations that, like their concerted efforts to draw attention to the atrocities committed in Darfur 15 years ago, the issue is still a priority. Jewish. In this case, simply resolutions, like the one voted in April by the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, are not enough.

Like I have previously written, the genocide of the Uyghurs did not elicit the same kind of militant fervor from the Jewish community as Darfur. By comparison, this protest was gratuitous. There have not been any major donors who have done business in Sudan to push for silence like there is with China. Too many people are profiting from or would like to trade with the Chinese regime.

They are not the only ones who are silent. The indifference towards Uyghurs, who are Muslims, on the part of Muslim nations and even the American-Muslim community is astounding.

And so, it behooves those who claim to be talking about conscience issues to treat what is happening in western China as not just another sad situation in the world. The Olympics provided an opportunity to expose Beijing’s crimes. If, on the contrary, the fun and games continue with little effective protest, all the talk of politicians and others about being guided by the Holocaust remembrance motto “Never Again” will have turned out to be true. meaningless.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNSJewish Information Union. Follow him on twitter @jonathan_tobin.


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