The United States’ claim that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang presents a rare moral predicament for athletes and countries preparing to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
On the last day of the Trump administration, outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement, drawing attention to the systemic abuse of the Uyghur minority population in the far west of China.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” he said.
The vociferous criticism of Beijing by Pompeo was a hallmark of his tenure, but he had previously danced around directly alleging genocide, saying repeatedly that the Uighur treatment was reminiscent of the policies of Nazi Germany.
Pompeo urged all international bodies, including the courts, to take up cases concerning the treatment of the Uighurs by China and expressed trust that the U.S. would continue to raise pressure.
Rights groups believe that in camps in the western region of Xinjiang, at least one million Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim Turkic-speaking Muslims are imprisoned.
Witnesses and activists claim that China aims to forcefully incorporate the Uighurs into the majority Han culture by eradicating Islamic customs, including pressuring Muslims to eat pork and consume alcohol, prohibited by their religion.
What is China’S Response?
China strongly defends its human rights record and policies in Xinjiang, saying all people are treated fairly by its constitution and laws and those behind the allegations are lying to smear the image of China and hinder its development.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing slammed Mr. Pompeo, calling him a “doomsday clown”. The allegations were “outright sensational pseudo-propositions and a malicious farce concocted by individual anti-China and anti-Communist forces represented by Pompeo”, spokesperson Hua Chunying said, reported the Associated Press.
“In our view, Pompeo’s so-called designation is a piece of waste paper,” she added. “This American politician, who is notorious for lying and deceiving, is turning himself into a doomsday clown and joke of the century with his last madness and lies of the century.”
Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang claimed that from 2010 to 2018, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang grew from 10.17 million to 12.72 million, an increase of 2.55 million or 25 percent, higher than the 14 percent for the whole population in Xinjiang, and much higher than the two percent for the Han population.
Asked for a response to genocide charges, Wang stated that the US Senators are “entrenched in their anti-China bias and obsessed with making up all sorts of lies to vilify China and seek selfish political gains”.
“The so-called genocide is a rumor deliberately started by some anti-China forces and a farce to discredit China,” he said.
Genocide is defined by the United Nations as “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and although the US determination won’t trigger any immediate penalties, it will put pressure on anyone who does business with China — and that includes the 90 or so nations that are due to send athletes to the Winter Games in February next year.
“Right now there is a lot of pressure on any kind of major engagements with the Chinese government that involves lending (them) legitimacy,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Will China host the 2022 Beijing Olympics?
The prospect of not sending athletes to Beijing in 2022 has been publicly discussed by leaders in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the US. Twelve US senators led by Republican Rick Scott introduced a bipartisan resolution in March last year asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to exclude China from the 2022 Games and reopen the bidding process. But to date, no government or national sports authority has officially announced it will be pulling out.
IOC said that it had received “assurances” from Chinese authorities that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected at the Beijing 2022 Games. In a statement to CNN.
“Awarding the Olympic Games to a National Olympic Committee (NOC) does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country,” the statement said.
Activists and experts said the allegations from the US would certainly fuel calls for at least a partial boycott of the Games. More than 160 human rights organizations around the world wrote to the IOC in September 2020 to reverse its decision to conduct Beijing’s 2022 Games.
Mandie McKeown, executive director of the International Tibet Network, who coordinated the letter, said that if they were to put together another group letter now, the number of organizations would “undoubtedly” be higher.
She said if the Games couldn’t be canceled, then her organization was advocating for a diplomatic boycott of the event, which would allow teams to attend while world leaders stayed away.
“The push for a diplomatic boycott is definitely growing and noises (from governments) are positive,” McKeown said.