calls mount for diplomatic boycott of Winter Olympics in Beijing
BY GEORGIO KONSTANDI ON 30TH DEC 2021
In just over a month’s time, Beijing will attempt to pull off its biggest PR stunt yet when it welcomes the world’s athletes to its Winter Olympics in February 2022. Ostentatious ceremonies, bright lights and smiling faces will play their familiar role in dazzling audiences through their television screens. Indeed, the scenes of jubilation broadcast to the world will be a far cry from the gruesome evidence of crimes against humanity being committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against its Muslim minorities, mainly the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group. More footage of Uyghur ‘detention camps’ and the crimes committed within them continue to be uncovered. Survivor testimonies allege genocidal acts including the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women. The CCP continue to deny that any such atrocities have taken place.
As the world prepares – as much as is possible during an ongoing pandemic – for the Winter Olympics, a handful of nations have declared that they will not be sending government officials to the Games (constituting a diplomatic boycott).
The issue of justice for the Uyghurs amid the CCP’s human rights violations has gained grassroots attention world-wide. The anti-atrocity group, Yet Again UK, is campaigning alongside Uyghur survivors to raise awareness of what is happening in Xinjiang, and to ensure Beijing is held accountable for its actions. In light of Yet Again‘s campaign to secure a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, Politika News sat down with its Co-Executive Director, Jaya Pathak, to talk genocide denial, justice for the Uyghurs, and diplomacy.
In your campaign briefing, you say that a diplomatic boycott sends a message to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that it cannot commit crimes against humanity ‘with impunity’. Why do you believe that diplomatic boycotts are effective against a decades-old regime?
The Chinese government cares about image, as most authoritarian regimes do. It’s an image game.
Due to the geopolitical nature of our world today, the Chinese government behaves with impunity because of the lack of action from other governments. They believe that they can get away with yet another propaganda attempt, which would serve their image well.
A diplomatic boycott would not only taint this image, but would be a step further to holding the PRC accountable for their atrocities in a way that has not been done in the past. It would also allow the communities of those affected by the PRC’s atrocities, such as the Tibetan communities, Hongkonger communities and Uyghur communities, to reclaim the narrative of the Games – “reclaim the Games”.
A diplomatic boycott would mean that all state officials would not attend the Winter Olympics.
The PRC is seeking to use the Winter Games to cultivate its image and bolster its international legitimacy. In refusing to grant the PRC standard diplomatic niceties, a diplomatic boycott sends a message to both the Chinese government and the wider international community that the UK unequivocally stands against the horrific crimes occurring in the Uyghur region and they cannot commit these crimes with impunity.
What is your response to those who say the Olympics should remain apolitical?
The Olympic ideals are the complete opposite to the ideals that the Chinese government represents. Not only would turning a blind eye to the Chinese government’s atrocities be hypocritical for that reason, but it is also naive.
We live in a world ruled by policies, and in effect a lot of social activities are political. The hosting of the Games is commonly sought after by countries who wish to use the Olympics to improve their image politically – we have seen this both historically and in the present day.
For China, the Winter Games have the clear political goal of bolstering the regime’s legitimacy. The question is not whether sport and politics should be kept separate, but rather, whether the UK and other countries should play into the political goals of the PRC, or instead stand up for the principles of human rights and the rule of law.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide requires the UK to employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide where it learns of a serious risk that genocide will be committed. A diplomatic boycott would ensure the UK complies with its international obligations whilst ensuring UK athletes showcase their talents should they choose to participate.
So far, nine participating states have announced that they will not be sending government officials to Beijing’s Winter Olympics. Is this enough?
The international community must come out in full force because the more countries that join the diplomatic boycott, the more pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the further the image of the PRC is tainted.
It also means those communities who suffer at the hands of the PRC, who reside all over the world, will feel supported. A strong message will be sent to the PRC.
Yet Again UK’s Co-Executive Director, Jaya Pathak, at a ‘Reclaim the Olympics’ rally in October 2021. Image Credit: Kit Lee.
Recently, more footage of internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has come to light. Increasing evidence through reports, investigations and survivor testimonies indicate that genocidal acts including torture and the forced sterilisation of women are being committed against the Uyghur community. What can the international community do to pursue clarity and justice on this issue?
The Uyghur Tribunal judgement found that the PRC has committed crimes against humanity, torture and genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Tribunal went on to state that they are satisfied ‘that President Xi Jinping, Chen Quanguo and other very senior officials in the PRC and CCP bear primary responsibility for acts that have occurred in Xinjiang.’
As a State Party to the Genocide Convention, the UK and other countries have an obligation to prevent and punish genocide where it ‘learns, or should normally have learned of, a serious risk that genocide will be committed.’
There can be no doubt that, at the least, the UK has learnt of such a risk.
We urge the government to strongly consider this judgement and engage in their obligations to prevent and punish, and to consider the evidence pulled together by the Tribunal – the biggest bank of evidence for the genocide that exists anywhere in the world.
Magnitsky-style sanctions must be imposed on the perpetrators of this genocide, including Chen Quanguo.
Import controls on products made in Xinjiang and by Uyghur forced labour must be imposed and export control reevaluated. Companies and institutions complicit in the genocide must be proscribed by governments. These are just a few actions that can be taken but they must be taken with a matter of urgency – the PRC must know that they will be held accountable for their crimes.
Many political commentators and activists have highlighted the growing tendency to deny or dismiss the crimes being committed by the Chinese government, particularly among the far left, though elsewhere too. Why do you think this problem exists, and can it be combatted?
Whether it is the Uyghur genocide, or atrocities committed by Assad against the Syrian people, the section of Western ‘anti-imperialists’, predominant in the far left, often engage in atrocity denial whenever those raising concerns are from the West, e.g. the UK and USA.
Whilst some figures in the West may look to politicise atrocities and have bad intentions – and they should be rightly called out – there are many others who are speaking up with a genuine desire to help and because it is the right thing to do.
This is often a blind spot for many ‘anti-imperialists’ who fail to recognise China’s role in imperialism. This may also stem from sympathies between the far left and what they perceive as communism.
The facts and evidence do not lie, and other figures on the left must challenge the proliferation of such atrocity denial. It is important to know when and where to engage – with the random troll on Twitter, it probably does not matter so much, but with other key leftist figures with large platforms and big influence, it is important to challenge revisionism and denial, to educate them and to speak up about the truth.
Human Rights Day rally, December 2021. Image Credit: Kit Lee.
Finally, the work Yet Again does often involves fighting alongside those who have experienced some of the worst atrocities known to humankind. How can activists make sure the voices of survivors are centred in their work?
At Yet Again, we believe our advocacy lies in the amplification of survivor voices, of those with lived experience or personal connection to the atrocities unfolding.
We ensure that we nurture respectful, trustworthy and strong relationships with the communities we wish to help, ensuring that they take the lead in the movement. We also help build capacity, share ideas and support them.
There is never an idea we pursue without the input of the communities we wish to help. Other activists can ensure that survivors are centred in their work in the same way – always give the time to listen, keep survivors involved at every stage of your work and build relationships in which you value each other.
Published by Georgio Konstandi
Founder and Editor of Politika News. MA Central and South-East European Studies, University College London. Published in Varsity, The Cambridge Globalist, Le French Débat, and The Cambridge Student. Published author.