Boycotting the Winter Olympics in Beijing shows that our values on human rights trumps China’s abuses of them
On Wednesday, during PMQs, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the United Kingdom would be diplomatically boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022. In a huge win for many of us who have been campaigning on the Uighur genocide for well over a year, he told the Commons that the UK would not be sending ministers or officials to China. The announcement followed similar statements from our closest ally, America, our European cousins Lithuania, and from our Five Eyes partners Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
How did we get here? For decades, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has committed an increasingly horrific crackdown on the Uighur population in Xinjiang, a north-west province in China. From 2017 onwards, brave witnesses, leaked CCP databases and satellite imagery have shown mass incarceration, systematic rape, separation of children from their families, mass sterilisation, desecration of places of worship and deliberate attempts to destroy Uighur births. In the words of the former foreign secretary, they paint “a truly harrowing picture.”
Our parliament unanimously declared the situation in Xinjiang to be that of genocide, as have those in Canada, The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Lithuania. The United States government has also declared Uighurs to be victims of genocide. And just this morning, the independent Uighur tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, declared that a genocide is taking place in Xinjiang. Over the past year the tribunal had amassed by far the most comprehensive body of evidence on the Uighur crisis in existence. Hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence. Exhaustive and detailed public hearings. Following a rigorous and impartial process, this people’s tribunal of objective professionals, all instructed fully on applicable law, concluded that the People’s Republic of China is perpetrating a genocide against the Uighur.
The Chinese government has reacted with fury and contradiction to the diplomatic boycott. In a press release from the Chinese embassy in the UK, a spokesperson said that, “the Chinese government has not invited government ministers or officials from the UK to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics.” Separately, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry warned that the UK “will have to pay the price for their mistaken acts.” If the UK’s ministers weren’t invited in the first place, what mistaken acts have we possibly made?
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It is unsurprising to see this childish incoherence from Beijing. As some of us found out first-hand in March this year, President Xi’s default position when criticised over his party’s horrific abuses of human rights is to lash out immediately with threats, intimidation and sanctions. These are used as a blunt club to try and bash anyone or any group that points to the ongoing Uighur genocide in Xinjiang or raises how supply chains are littered with Uighur slave labour. This may work within China, where the CCP has the world’s most advanced technological and surveillance mechanisms in play, and where those who speak out can expect to be interrogated, disappeared, or incarcerated. And for raising the Uighur genocide, myself and four parliamentary colleagues were sanctioned by the PRC earlier this year.
However, unfortunately for President Xi, these threats simply do not work in a strong democracy, especially when the western world has woken up to his belligerence. Hosting the Olympics is an honour – not a right. Countries that do so should be prepared to behave by the universally agreed set of international rules; they should not react to scrutiny by lashing out and sanctioning those who ask questions.
It is difficult for autocrats to understand dissenting voices, especially when they surround themselves with so many sycophants – so let me make this really clear. This diplomatic boycott shows that our values on human rights trumps China’s abuses of them, and that we will not be intimidated, we will not be cowed, and we will continue to shine a very bright light on the genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Vague threats of “paying the price” speak more about those dealing with them than anyone on the receiving end.
Nusrat Ghani is a Conservative MP for Wealden in East Sussex