The international response to the Chinese Communist Party’s drive to decimate its Uyghur population in Xinjiang has picked up in recent months and, despite some initial inertia, led many to the realization that Beijing should not host the 2022 Winter Olympics. In recent days, the International Olympic Committee has indicated that it just doesn’t care.
It’s become increasingly clear that the Chinese party-state has disqualified itself from hosting an international event of such importance. The world is gradually awakening to the perpetration of genocide in Xinjiang, and the use of similar methods of social control in other parts of China to hold other minority populations in line. The evidence, compiled at great cost and often at the risk of Uyghur diaspora and family members still located in Xinjiang, speaks for itself: A Canadian parliamentary subcommittee on Wednesday became the first legislative entity to state that genocide is taking place in the region. And it’s likely that the State Department issues a formal finding of genocide by early 2021, no matter who wins in November.
While there remain some holdouts in the West — in addition to the dozens of developing countries that actually back Beijing’s Xinjiang policies — public awareness of the situation is growing, and Beijing is increasingly on the defensive.
So where does this leave the Olympics? The answer is simple, really: The International Olympic Committee has an obligation to withdraw its grant of the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing. Allowing the games to take place there would only legitimize the CCP’s genocide and other ethnic cleansing campaigns. It’d be a repeat of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, just this time with even more publicly available evidence — satellite imagery, official Chinese government documents, witness testimonies — of mass atrocities. The IOC should also bar the People’s Republic from taking part in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, as it did apartheid South Africa before the 1964 games, which also took place in Tokyo.
In the event that Beijing 2022 goes forward, Chinese officials would certainly take the opportunity to showcase its technological progress and cultural traditions with the world as its audience. There’s going to be plenty about how China triumphed over the coronavirus (despite the fact that the CCP covered up the virus’s origins, and its lack of success compared with Taiwan and other democracies), and perhaps even a brazen attempt to whitewash its sinicization campaigns. Think happy, dancing Uyghurs, such as the ones in the creepy propaganda videos produced by state media and foreign-affairs officials.
However, the International Olympic Committee seems inclined to turn a blind eye, as many have already done, often without incurring significant cost: Asked by Uyghur-rights advocates why a country with over 1 million concentration-camp prisoners should host the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee essentially shrugged.
Its response, according to the Associated Press, was simply to state last week that “It’s not a political body and doesn’t take a position on human-rights issues. It simply organizes sports events.”
This is not an attitude uncommon for those with a vested interest in playing nice with the Chinese government. Mark Cuban made headlines earlier this month for answering a question on Megyn Kelly’s podcast in a similar way. From the South China Morning Post:
“Why would the NBA take US$500 million dollars-plus from a country that is engaging in ethnic cleansing?” the host asked Cuban.
“So basically, you‘re saying nobody should do business with China ever,” he said before being asked why he would not answer the question.
“Because they are a customer,” Cuban said. “They are a customer of ours, and guess what, Megyn? I‘m OK with doing business with China. And so we have to pick our battles. I wish we could solve all the world’s problems. But we can’t.”
Not all the world’s problems. But surely something can be done as one of today’s largest and most public mass atrocities unfolds before us? When it comes to the Xinjiang genocide, compartmentalizing, as Cuban and the IOC have essentially suggested we do, is not an option. This is one battle worth fighting.
And unlike Cuban, the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, recently said that he believes it impossible to separate sports and politics in this case, leaving open the possibility of a boycott. It’s not inconceivable that the U.S. and other Western countries would do the same. Senator Rick Scott has called for a boycott, and his calls will undoubtedly be echoed by many of his colleagues and foreign counterparts. Beijing’s strident, unpredictable diplomacy has made many new adversaries of governments that would have otherwise remained on the sidelines.
But while the growing calls for a boycott are promising, the IOC could easily bypass the need for one. Instead, absent a big change, it seems poised to repeat the mistakes of 1936. Keeping the Olympics in Beijing is a political act in itself.