Tuesday afternoon, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives held a joint hearing entitled, “China, Genocide and the Olympics.” The hearing addressed the disturbing fact that China, a nation whose government is in the process of committing genocide against the Uyghurs, has been awarded the international distinction of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. In attendance was Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Rep. James P. McGovern, Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley, other members of the Commission, and several witnesses.
It is a well-known fact that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is no friend to China’s ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Tibetan Buddhists and the Muslim Uyghurs. Since 2017, the Chinese government has detained millions of its Uyghur population in internment camps in Xinjiang. In these barb-wire-fenced, modern-day concentration camps, Uyghurs undergo “reeducation,” a process which involves consuming large amounts of CCP propaganda, being forced to deny their culture and renounce their faith, and enduring all sorts of physical and verbal abuse — in some cases even forced abortions or sterilization.
Given these severe human rights abuses, the question remains: Why has the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as of yet, stood by its previous decision to allow Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games? What should the U.S. and corporate sponsors do if the games continue as planned?
These are the questions Congress set to answer in their joint hearing Tuesday. The first, most obvious course of action is for the U.S. to call upon the IOC to rescind their decision and select a new city and country for the 2022 Olympics. However, the Olympics are less than a year away, and the panel seemed less than optimistic that the IOC will agree to relocate, even when confronted with the CCP’s blatant abuses.
The witnesses confirmed Congress’ bipartisan concerns about giving the regime such a large, public international platform. Susan V. Lawrence, Specialist in Asian Affairs for the Congressional Research Service, warned that the CCP intends to use the Olympics to accomplish several nationalistic goals. Among these are stimulating national spirit, showcasing the advantages of China’s political system, and boosting Chinese brands.
Dr. Yang Jianli, founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, alluded to the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Berlin despite the growing power and abuses of the Nazis, “Beijing 2022 will be Xi’s games just as Berlin 1936 were Hitler’s.”
Some witnesses went so far as to suggest banning China from participating in the Olympics at all. Samuel Chu, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, pointed out that Russia was banned from the Olympics for doping. Does genocide not merit an equally severe penalty?
Congress also discussed contingencies, should the IOC refuse to relocate. Speaker Pelosi suggests a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics, in which U.S. heads of state would stay home, rather than travelling to China to honor the Chinese government. The Speaker insists, “let’s honor [our athletes] at home, let’s not honor the Chinese government.” If Congress is serious about the Speaker’s suggestion, it should prohibit funds from being expended to fund travel for U.S. Government officials to China for the Games.
There was also discussion of “outreach to corporate Olympic sponsors to encourage them to use their leverage in favor of human rights.” The Olympics cannot take place without funding, and large, corporate sponsors hold a great amount of influence over the event. However, a boycott on the part of Olympic sponsors is one that could easily cost companies their profits, making it difficult to coordinate.
A simple solution proposed in the hearing would be for U.S. companies to demand they be allowed to directly support the U.S. Olympic Committee, as opposed to their funds going to the IOC to subsidize the CCP’s Genocide Games, with only a small portion being returned to Team USA.
Speaker Pelosi pointed out that some sponsors are even in the process of lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Bill. As such, she remains pessimistic that pressure from corporate sponsors will be strong enough to force the IOC to change its plans, standing instead by her proposal of a diplomatic boycott as the solution with the highest probability of success.
As the Olympics draw near, no solution is completely locked in or fully off the table. But one thing is certain: Congress is unified in its opposition to the CCP’s human rights abuses. The Chinese government’s genocide against the Uyghurs is one thing both sides of the political aisle can come together to denounce, and all are in agreement that silence in the face of such persecution is not an option.