US House Speaker urges diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympic Games

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Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has become the highest-ranking American politician to call for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games over China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Pelosi urged the US and other nations not to send high-level delegations, in a bid to boost pressure on the Chinese government over its persecution of Uyghurs, which the Biden administration has called “genocide”.

“We cannot proceed as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China,” Pelosi said at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives. “The last three decades have made it clear that we cannot continue to give China a blank cheque on the hope that their behaviour will simply change.”

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The Biden administration has held preliminary talks with allies, including the UK and Australia, about a diplomatic boycott, but officials say that no decision has been made about the games. Last week the state department said the Chinese government had turned Xinjiang into an “open-air prison” and that the Biden administration was reviewing its options to make sure that it did not help China use the games to achieve a propaganda victory.

Beijing has rejected widespread claims that it has confined more than 1m Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in detention camps across the northwestern region that in some cases are being used for forced labour.

A diplomatic boycott would involve governments declining to send officials or heads of state to the Olympics, an option the US used during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to protest Russia’s anti-gay law. 

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“Let’s not honour the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China,” Pelosi said.

Several Republican lawmakers have proposed a diplomatic boycott but Pelosi, a longtime critic of China over its record on human rights, is the senior-most member of Congress to push for the outcome.

“As the Speaker of the House and somebody who has worked on China and human rights issues for decades, it is very important,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

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“With the Chinese government doubling if not quadrupling down on human rights crimes alongside the International Olympic Committee’s obstinacy and obfuscation, nobody should be surprised at this outcome.”

Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who co-chairs the commission and wants the games moved away from China, said he would call US companies involved in sponsoring the 2022 Olympics to testify before Congress.

“We’re going to ask all the key ones from the US, especially Coca-Cola, to testify,” Smith told the Financial Times, adding that he also wanted to hear from Mars, the only US company that has a sponsorship contract with the Beijing Olympic organising committee, as opposed to with the IOC.

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“They may lose some money but they need to realise that money from a dictatorship that is slaughtering people is ill-begotten gains.”

The FT recently contacted more than two dozen companies with Olympic sponsorship rights but most refused to comment.

A spokesman for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee did not comment on Tuesday. But it has previously said it opposed boycotts. The US last engaged in a full-scale boycott, in which it withdrew its delegation of athletes, at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

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