China’s shadows cannot stay out of the Olympics torchlight
With fewer than 100 days to go before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, the logistical nightmare of trying to run a global sporting event during a pandemic is coming to a head. But this is not the only problem facing the International Olympic Committee.
The debate over boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics, which opens in February next year, is also heating up. While China is under fire for the erosion of democratic autonomy in Hong Kong, and its threats towards Taiwan, the main point of contention is the growing alarm over China’s treatment of Uighurs in the province of Xinjiang.
Beijing’s mascots for the 2022 Winter Games.Credit:
It’s not only journalists and human rights groups who have documented a systematic effort to undermine Islam and local culture in Xinjiang. America’s annual human rights report, published by the US State Department, has upped the ante: “Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs.”
It goes on to describe “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilisation, coerced abortions … torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labour, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”
While the US report does not include mass murder, which most people would associate with genocide, the 1948 Genocide Convention gives a broader definition that includes causing serious “mental harm”, preventing births or “forcibly transferring children” when part of a systematic effort to destroy a particular group.
If you accept that what is going on in Xinjiang is genocide – Australia has baulked at going that far, but an increasing number of nations are supporting the claim – then it does mean the Beijing Winter Olympic Games will draw athletes, officials and sponsors to a country that is responsible for ongoing crimes against humanity.
More than 180 human rights organisations have called on governments to stay away from the Beijing Games, and pressure is building in America, Canada and the European Union. In Australia, despite growing concern over human rights abuses in Beijing, South Australian independent Senator Rex Patrick is the only federal MP to call for a boycott. He has attracted little support.
As expected, China has hit out at any suggestions of a boycott. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in March that any boycott effort was “doomed to failure”. “China firmly rejects the politicisation of sports and opposes using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” Zhao said.
With Australia already feeling the heat of China’s unhappiness in the form of trade sanctions, it would be unlikely the Morrison government would consider stopping our athletes from attending the Games.
But that does not mean Australia should participate in the Games without highlighting some of the worst offences the authoritarian regime is carrying out. The argument that sport and politics should never mix has never held water.
There is no doubt that China will use the upcoming Winter Games, as it did with the Summer Olympics of 2008, to project a nation confident with its growing status as a global power. That is political.
The Beijing Games should be a chance to admire the feats of the world’s best athletes, but that does not mean we can pretend for those few weeks that Beijing does not have a long way to go before it can truly show itself to the world as a nation that upholds human rights for its people.
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