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The XXIV Winter Olympics open in Beijing, China, on February 4, less than 14 years since they hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. The torch relay began from Olympia, Greece, on October 18th. Residents of Xinjiang Province, home of gulags, re-education camps, and other forms of genocide against Uyghur Muslims, will miss out on it.
It didn’t have to be this way. When the International Olympic Committee voted in 2015, it had a choice. Beijing won out over Almaty, Khazakstan, by just four votes, 44-40, after Norway, the early favorite, withdrew their bid over embarrassing demands made by the IOC. It is the third consecutive Olympics held in Asia (the other two were Japan and South Korea).
Major sponsors include several prominent US companies, including consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble, computer chip maker Intel, Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Visa, and others.
Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, chaired by Democratic US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), were not impressed. In July, they “invited the U.S.-based companies who sponsor the Olympics through The Olympic Partner (TOP ) Programme of the IOC to this hearing to address how they can leverage their influence to insist on concrete human rights improvements in the People’s Republic of China and how they will manage the material and reputational risks of being associated with an Olympic Games held in the midst of a genocide.”
In a rare display of congressional bipartisanship, Republican US Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the dean of the New Jersey congressional delegation and a leading pro-life and human rights advocate, along with colleagues Merkley and US Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), did not mince words. Smith:
For let’s be very clear what we are talking about here, and why multiple hearings and concrete action on this topic are called for—first and foremost we not only see genocide and concentration camps directed against Uyghurs and Kazaks in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in particular, but also the ongoing eradication of the culture of Tibet, the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners, the destruction of Christian churches, and the dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong. And yet, for many American corporations, it is business as usual when it comes to China, notwithstanding the Communist government’s repeated unwillingness to abide by its obligations and written agreements, including in the case of Hong Kong a bilateral treaty with the government of the United Kingdom. And while I appreciate that several corporations have sent their representatives to testify at this hearing, I cannot but shake my head in dismay when I read the preening about compliance with ESG, or Environmental, Social and Governance, principles and the virtue signaling about their support for Olympic athletes.
Merkey and McGovern piled on. “The Olympic Games exist to uplift the human spirit. Yet, unless something dramatically changes, in a few months’ time the Games will be held in a country that continues to mercilessly crush the human spirit, in Xinjiang, in Hong Kong, and in Tibet; among human rights activists and civil society; and anywhere where defenders of freedom stand up to the Chinese government’s bullying,” Merkley said. House Rules Committee Chair McGovern: “Last week, Senators Merkley and Rubio, and Congressman Smith and I, asked the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Beijing Olympics and relocate them if China does not change its behavior.
“If we can delay an Olympics for a year for a pandemic – that’s what we did in Tokyo — we can delay it for a year for a genocide. We received the IOC’s response. They said they would do nothing, not even acknowledging the atrocities in China,” McGovern added.
It is too late to relocate the Olympics, requiring more integrity and courage than the IOC can muster. No country to date, including the United States, has done much to discourage corporate support of what portends to be a massive public relations coup for the Communist Chinese government. No country has canceled their participation, despite public calls for them to do so. US Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) raised concerns over the safety of American athletes in his call for a complete boycott. He’s far from alone.
Some say the Olympics should never be “political.” Kind of late for that. The American Enterprise Institute’s Hal Brand: “In 1936, the Berlin Olympics allowed a dictatorial, anti-Semitic regime to bask in the attention of the world. Twelve years later, Germany and Japan were excluded from the London Olympics for their role in starting World War II.” Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Winter Olympics in the USSR over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Another option under consideration by the Biden Administration is a “diplomatic boycott.” Nick Danby writing for the National Interest, opines, “This would allow athletes to compete while the government withdraws its public support and presence. Or, better yet, the American delegation should boycott the opening ceremonies. The United States supports athletic competition, but not a self-serving ceremony touting China’s dubious record.
“And when China’s repression presumably worsens in the coming years, Washington should lobby the IOC to ban China from the games, much like it banned South Africa from 1964 to 1988 for its apartheid policies,” Danby ventures. It will probably have to be pursued by a future President since Joe Biden may be too compromised.
And China isn’t happy with all this talk. They are openly bullying corporate sponsors via the US-China Business Council and others to “speak out.” Xie Feng, China’s Foreign Vice-Minister, even “warned that if relations between the two countries deteriorate, the business community could not expect to make money while remaining silent,” The South China Morning Post reported.
Give China’s Communist government credit – they know how to speak the language of corporate America.
The testimony provided to the CECC by corporate representatives didn’t mention a word about China or its well-documented human rights abuses – just their programs that had nothing to do with the issue at hand, nothing that might offend Chinese officialdom.
.@Olympics sponsors in spotlight as Games in🇨🇳China loom.
Corporations should explain publicly how they are using their leverage to address human rights abuses in China ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.
— Jan Kooy (@KooyJan) November 12, 2021
But let’s not focus the spotlight on just corporate sponsors. Legislation to address forced labor issues involving Uyghur Muslime has been pending for months, blocked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with an assist from the Biden Administration. The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin explains (December 2nd):
Yet the Democrat-led Congress can’t seem to get the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed the Senate unanimously in July, to President Biden’s desk. Pointing to procedural issues and promises of future action, Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate can’t seem to agree on a strategy to pass the bill through both chambers, despite publicly claiming they support it.
On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the co-sponsor of the Senate’s version of the bill, pushed to add it as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass piece of legislation. Senate Democrats objected under a procedural rule that bars amendments that affect appropriations. Rubio called that a dodge.
“This is about the fact that they don’t want this bill to pass over at the House,” Rubio said on the Senate floor, referring directly to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rubio also said U.S. corporations that profit from forced labor in China, such as Apple and Nike, have been lobbying against the bill, which is true. On Thursday, Pelosi denied Rubio’s accusations of stalling and promised her chamber would pass the House’s version of the legislation, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), which the House passed last year 406 to 3. In an interview, McGovern told me his bill will be voted on and likely passed again in the House next week.
We’ll see. Given the differences between the House (HR 1155) and Senate (S. 65) bills, there would need to be a House-Senate conference to iron those out. Both Chambers would then, ostensibly, pass a final version. So, there’s plenty of chances for Pelosi to slow-walk the effort, despite her support for a “diplomatic boycott.” And don’t forget corporations lobbying against the bill. National Review:
But the act is still far from the finish line. Even if the House adopts McGovern’s bill, that would only begin a new process around that measure (which differs from the Senate version), and there would be many points at which the administration or corporate interests could continue to block or attempt to gut it.
In a hard-hitting floor speech Thursday coming to Rubio’s defense amid attacks by Schumer and Pelosi, Senator Mitt Romney pointed to a green motivation for opposition to the act: “Democrats want cheap batteries for their so-called Build Back Better agenda, and nearly 80 percent of the rare earths, including other materials like lithium and cobalt and the like that are used to make these batteries, come from China.”
Meanwhile, companies with sizable supply-chain footprints in Xinjiang will remain dug in against the bill. About a year ago, the New York Times reported that Apple, Nike, and Coke lobbied against key components of the legislation.
All this aside, what do we do about the Olympics? No one wants to punish or make pawns of our Olympic athletes, many of whom have trained hard and long for this lifetime opportunity. Much of the corporate sponsorship support them, not China’s propaganda machine, but sponsors should oversee it. NBC, which will broadcast the Olympics, should shy away from airing political propaganda, including glorified visuals of Xi Jinping.
While not meaning much, a diplomatic boycott would send a message and draw some attention to China’s murderous genocide and atrocities. So would Congress shunning corporate lobbyists from Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola and moving quickly to send the Uyghur Force Labor Prevention Act to Biden’s desk before the Olympics. Other countries should follow suit. Perhaps companies like Apple and Nike, in particular, should accelerate the relocation of their manufacturing and supply chains away from China.
China’s communist government is evil. Need we even talk about their complicity in covering up the origins of the coronavirus, which has killed millions of people and wrecked global economic and social havoc over the past two years? Shame on Congress and the Biden Administration for not acting sooner to relocate the Olympics. Let’s hope they do something meaningful and prevent the Chinese from using or abusing these Olympics to push their propaganda.
I am not holding my breath.Published in