Last week, there was discussion in both the UK and European Parliaments of a possible "diplomatic boycott" of the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Parliamentary leaders are not the ones making the final decision on this issue, but nevertheless the views of legislators could have an impact and are worth noting.
In the UK, on July 7, Conservative MP Tim Loughton raised the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a Liaison Committee meeting, as follows:
Last week President Xi cheerily threatened that any foreigners attempting to influence China “will have their heads bashed…against the Great Wall of steel”. Of course, he is still in denial about human rights violations and the genocides in Xinjiang and Tibet, as recognised by this House, as a result of which five of us remain sanctioned. Will the Prime Minister therefore support our motion, to be debated in the House next Thursday, calling for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 winter Olympics—incredibly awarded to Beijing—until and unless this dangerous regime abides by basic international standards of decency?
Johnson responded with some skepticism about the idea of a boycott as the appropriate action here:
This country has led the world in condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in putting sanctions on those responsible and in holding companies to account that import goods made with forced labour in Xinjiang. I will certainly consider the proposals debated, but I must say that I am instinctively, and always have been, against sporting boycotts.
Then on July 8, the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report on "The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond," in which it was suggested that "If the British Olympic Association and competing teams decide not to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the Government should not attend and should urge others not to do so":
2022 Beijing Winter Olympics
26. As part of its efforts to accumulate global power and influence, the Chinese government seeks international recognition. Condemnation of the atrocities in Xinjiang poses a credible threat to China’s prestige and soft power, evidenced by the Chinese government’s changing narrative on the camps. Public condemnation, not closed-door diplomacy, will have the greatest impact. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics offer another opportunity to question the Chinese government’s ability to act as a global leader and to ‘name and shame’ for its crimes in Xinjiang. In oral evidence, the Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams MP, declined to give a view, suggesting that this was the competency of the British Olympic Association. Charles Parton, Associate Fellow at RUSI, suggested that an alternative to a boycott of the Winter Olympics would be to “make them cost” in terms of sponsorships, reputation, and prestige.
27. If the British Olympic Association and competing teams decide not to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the Government should not attend and should urge others not to do so. The Government should suggest the British Olympic Association does not participate in the opening or closing ceremonies, beyond one representative carrying the Union Flag. It should abstain from sending government officials to any ceremonies or functions, strongly discourage UK businesses from sponsoring or advertising at the Olympics, encourage fans and tourists to stay away, and discourage athletes from supporting or accepting the Chinese government’s propaganda efforts while in-country.
In response, at the regular Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference, spokesperson Wang Wenbin reacted with criticism of such efforts when the issue was raised:
AFP: British lawmakers urge their government to take tougher action against China over its treatment of minority groups in Xinjiang. They suggested boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics and a cotton trade ban. Do you have any comment on this?
Wang Wenbin: I already answered a similar question yesterday. I would like to reiterate that China firmly opposes the politicization of sports, and the interference in other countries' internal affairs by using human rights issues as a pretext. Some people attempt to disrupt, obstruct and sabotage the preparation and convening of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games out of political motivation. All sectors of the international community, including the governments and Olympic committees of many countries, and the International Olympic Committee, have all expressed their clear opposition to such practice that is doomed to fail.
Over in the European Parliament, on July 8, the issue of the Olympics came up in the context of the discussion of the closing of the Apple Daily publication in Hong Kong. The Parliament passed a resolution in which it called for a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics unless certain human rights improvements were achieved:
Calls on the Commission, the Council and the Member States to decline invitations for government representatives and diplomats to attend the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics unless the Chinese Government demonstrates a verifiable improvement in the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China;
As part of the parliamentary debate on these issues, the following two statements by members of parliament were noteworthy:
Reinhard Bütikofer, … The European Parliament speaks up. It does so today, and it will do so in the future. But we will need some more voices from Member States’ capitals to join the chorus. Human rights stand at the centre of European foreign policy, not just for the European Parliament. That’s why we also call on political leaders to refrain from accepting invitations to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing unless the situation changes fundamentally.
Anna Fotyga, … I’m really happy that the European Parliament is able to adopt the comprehensive resolution, acknowledging many facts that are needed by the public opinion of the whole of Europe in order to create proper policies, foreign policies.
I also join my colleagues in appealing to the EU and EU Member States’ diplomacies to decline invitations to participate in the events of 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
When asked about the European Parliament's action, a U.S. State Department spokesperson responded as follows:
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. The European Parliament has voted for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics. Does the U.S. support that?
MR PRICE: Do we support their —
QUESTION: They’re boycotting. Would – is the U.S. considering or will the U.S. follow suit and do the same?
MR PRICE: Well, we are – what is true is that we are closely consulting with allies and partners, as well as other actors, including the business community, to identify common concerns and, ideally, to establish a common approach regarding the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. We’ll continue to speak out consistently in the meantime, and again, jointly with allies and partners when it comes to what we’re seeing from PRC officials. And we’ll continue to impose costs and sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses, including the state sponsorship of forced labor. And just today, as I said at the outset of the briefing, you saw the updated business advisory that came from the Department of State and several of our interagency partners. But right now, we are engaged in discussions to establish those common concerns, and I don’t have anything for you beyond that.
For its part, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was dismissive of the effort:
AFP: … the European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday calling for EU officials to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics over human rights concerns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. What's the foreign ministry's response to this? …
Wang Wenbin: … what you mentioned is not worth any attention.
Prior to the vote on the resolution, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greek said he would attend the Beijing Olympics.