President Biden is absolutely correct to call for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in China because of what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki calls “genocide and crimes against humanity. “ But the International Olympic Committee should go further: It should postpone and relocate the games to express world condemnation of China’s appalling human rights record.
At issue is the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities. The Chinese government has incarcerated about a million Uyghurs in “re-education camps” and is subjecting them to forced labor and forced sterilization.
The treatment of the Uyghurs is not as severe as the Nazi Holocaust or the Soviet Holodomor, the government-created famine in which about 3.5 million Ukrainians starved to death in the early 1930s. But Chinese attempts to destroy Uyghur culture and prevent Uyghur reproduction meet the test of both the United Nations and the Biden State Department for a determination of genocide. Indeed, for the second time in 14 years, the Olympics in China have been branded “the Genocide Games” (the term was first used to refer to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics by human rights activists to protest China’s complicity in the Sudan’s genocide against the inhabitants of its Darfur region).
The International Olympic Committee has historically maintained that it will not get involved in politics. Therefore, it will not let a country’s political position or policies help determine where to locate Olympic Games. That’s unfortunate because where the Olympics are scheduled can have a profound political impact, whatever the IOC’s intentions. To schedule the Olympics in a given country is to confer great international prestige on that country. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Putin’s Russia, and China all used the Olympics to enhance their respective images in he world community. The Chinese government is already furious at the decision of Biden and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, Canada, and Australia to refuse to send diplomats to the Games. To actually postpone and relocate the Olympics to protest Chinese genocide would be one of the sharpest diplomatic rebukes to Beijing short of the severance of diplomatic relations.
And postponing the games is not without precedent. In 2020 Japan postponed the Tokyo Olympics by a year. The International Olympic Committee itself postponed the Olympics of 1916, 1940, and 1944 because of the First and Second World Wars.
But the IOC and its supporters would probably say not only that it’s too late to postpone the Winter Olympics, it wouldn’t do any good anyway. While postponement and relocation would be a tremendous diplomatic embarrassment to China, it’s unlikely China would therefore change its policies to any significant degree. So why postpone and relocate at all?
Depriving China of the Olympics would nonetheless send a signal not only to China but to the rest of the world that the human rights abuses of which China is guilty offend the world community. Even if China remains unmoved for the time being, other smaller and weaker nations may be more reluctant to abuse their citizens’ human rights for fear of earning worldwide disapproval. And maybe some day in the future a more moderate Chinese regime may likewise be deterred for fear of offending world opinion as well. On the other hand, failure to speak out against bad policies not only makes one partially complicit in their implementation and their consequences, and it reduces the chances for change from minimal to zero.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.