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US House speaker calls for ‘diplomatic boycott’ of Beijing Olympics

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a 'diplomatic boycott' of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics./AFP
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May 19, 2021 - 09:23 AM

WASHINGTON — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights violations.

“We cannot proceed as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China,” Pelosi told a joint hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“Sadly we are here because China continues to crush all political dissent,” the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives said, adding that the United States has an obligation to “speak out against human rights violations in China.”

“Let’s have a diplomatic boycott if in fact this Olympics takes place,” Pelosi said. “I don’t know if it’s possible because we have not succeeded in the past.”

But, she added, “let’s not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China.

“For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats really begs the question, ‘What moral authority do you have to speak about human rights anywhere in the world?'” Pelosi said.

The joint hearing also heard from activists who condemned China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority and its political crackdown in Hong Kong.

“Hosting the Olympics has become the go-to, proven solution for authoritarian regimes to whitewash their crimes, boost their image internationally, and strengthen alliances,” said Samuel Chu, managing director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a US-based group.

“The (International Olympic Committee — IOC) must do what they didn’t and refused to do before — ban China from playing and hosting all major sporting events indefinitely,” Chu said.

Rayhan Asat, a human rights lawyer of Uyghur origin, said her brother, Ekpar Asat, was being held in a prison camp.

“How could we cheer for our beloved athletes knowing that millions of people are held in the concentration camps?” Asat said. “Endorsement of China hosting the Olympics suggests that we deny the suffering of the Uyghur people.”

Plea for athletes to compete 

In a letter to members of Congress, Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, argued against a boycott, saying the Games were particularly important after the pandemic.

“The world spent more than a year isolated, quarantined, and afraid,” Hirshland said. “Thousands of competitors from around the world standing before the Olympic and Paralympic flame will mark the world’s emergence from the past year’s troubles.”

Hirshland said “valid concerns” have been raised about “China’s conduct, including the oppression of the Uyghur population.”

“We too are troubled by the situation in China,” she said. “However, an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues.”

“Both the 1980 and 1984 Games (boycotts) tainted Olympic history and showed the error of using the Olympic Games as a political tool,” she said.

China has condemned boycott calls as politicizing sport and the White House has stopped short of backing a boycott, which is also strongly opposed by US athletes.

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