By David Kilgour and Phil Kretzmar, December 10, 2021
On February 4, 2022, China’s government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will open the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Canada have announced diplomatic boycotts to protest Beijing’s ongoing persecution of its Muslim Uyghur citizens, and other egregious human rights abuses, including the oppression of Tibetans and trampling on human dignity and democratic governance in Hong Kong.
Athletes can compete from these countries, but no elected person will attend.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others, reports that Beijing’s attacks on the Uyghur community are alarming in severity and constitute “crimes against humanity,” including “forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, forced transfer, persecution, and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty.”
Canada’s MPs last year voted 266-0 that continuing regime actions against Uyghurs constituted genocide within the 1948 UN Genocide Convention and that if it continued the Games should be moved from Beijing.
After five weeks of international concern about the safety of tennis player Peng Shuai in China, the IOC admits (Dec 7) it cannot provide any certainties about her safety. Two video calls between Peng and the IOC are her only reported contacts with persons outside China since November 2, when she posted on social media her allegation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Communist Party official.
Canadians and the world went through similar debates in 1936 and in 2008; both offer lessons on what Canada and other nations should do now. Adolf Hitler manipulated the 1936 Berlin Olympics to improve the Nazi image internationally. In 2008, the concern was primarily the government of China’s crackdown in Tibet following protests in that region and continued oppression and organ harvesting against Falun Gong and other prisoners of conscience.
Allowing China’s Xi Jinping to host the 2022 Winter Olympics creates a similar opportunity, something the international community should firmly resist. The Beijing government is hoping to bask in the positive publicity surrounding the games. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it has aggressively denied any systematic crimes against its own people, claiming that these are all internal affairs and that critics are violating its sovereignty.
Diplomats from other countries who choose to attend the Beijing Olympics will be lending their tacit consent to the abuses being perpetrated. This is a conscience issue that touches on the essence of our humanity. Canada’s diplomatic boycott of the games is sending a clear message: Canadians do not support the grave injustices which continue in China.
Phil Kretsmar is a co-founder of “Stop Uyghur Genocide Canada.” David Kilgour is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the former Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) from 2002 to 2003.