Wera Hobhouse calls for Olympian steps to halt Xinjiang atrocities

In a Commons debate on Thursday, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse warned it would be unacceptable for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, senior diplomats and officials to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. To do so would give credibility to a regime that is accused of genocide in Xinjiang. Western countries had to take a stance against China’s human rights abuses.

Hobhouse told MPs is totally unacceptable that peaceful demonstrations during protests on the field of play or in medal ceremonies are barred by the IOC under the threat of sanctions. Given the ongoing human rights abuses, is it at all justifiable for the games to go ahead?

The motion from Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham called for a boycott by government representatives, not athletes, until China end the atrocities in Xinjiang:

This House believes that the 2022 Winter Olympic games should not be hosted in a country whose Government is credibly accused of mass atrocity crimes; and calls on the UK Government to decline invitations for its representatives to attend the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games unless the Government of the People’s Republic of China ends the atrocities taking place in the Xinjiang region and lifts the sanctions imposed on UK Parliamentarians, citizens and entities.

Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath responded:

We have already heard in today’s debate about the significant and substantial evidence of the terrible treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, with arbitrary detention, mass incarceration, forced political indoctrination, re-education and Orwellian levels of surveillance. Most horrifying of all are the accounts of sexual abuse, torture and forcible sterilisation. It is a pervasive assault on human rights. It must be challenged; we cannot stay silent.

The UK has to do all it can, working with our international partners including the EU. I listened carefully to [Tom Tugendhat] about the limitations on intervening as a foreign state—being strong without going as far as threatening force—but we do have an opportunity. It starts with calling out what we see as what it is: genocide…

We must continue our calls for investigation by the UN, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, but we cannot afford to wait for that to happen. It is vital that we take other meaningful steps to stop these atrocities. We should work in lockstep with our European allies on sanctions and co-operate with them to expand the reach and scope of our Magnitsky sanctions regime…

The role of the Beijing winter Olympics and human rights abuses by the CCP—to repeat what has been said many times, it is the Chinese Communist party that is committing these atrocities, not the people of China. I have already touched on the terrible crimes in Xinjiang, but we must remember the context of human rights abuse in places such as Tibet, the CCP’s attempt to dismantle democracy and liberty in Hong Kong, the ever more dangerous rhetoric around Taiwan, and the CCP’s ongoing activities in the South China sea in the face of UN rulings.

Western countries have to take a stance. We must be aware that the Olympics next year will be used to give credibility to the regime, as we have heard several times today. Whether we like it or not, they will serve as a propaganda tool. It would be absolutely unacceptable for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or senior diplomats and officials to give credibility to such an event.

If the games go ahead, it is vital that the International Olympic Committee adjust its own rules. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter prevents athletes from speaking out or making peaceful demonstrations or protests in the field of play or during medal ceremonies. It is totally unacceptable that competitors should be gagged in that way under the threat of sanctions from the IOC. The justification for the rule is to keep politics out of sport, but as we have heard, the event will be used politically by the Chinese communist party. The reality is that a protest-free games would be just as political as one in which athletes were allowed to express their opinions.

Finally, we must be realistic about whether it is at all appropriate for the games to go ahead in Beijing, given the ongoing human rights abuses. I want to go a little further: is it at all justifiable for the games to go ahead? In such grave circumstances, it is vital for the option of a full sporting boycott of the games at least to remain on the table. There is growing consensus about the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing winter Olympics, but I wonder whether we should dare to go further.

Across the House, we are outraged about the horrific human rights abuses by the CCP against millions of its own people. Critics are becoming more and more aware, but the Chinese communist party is becoming more and more emboldened the longer the rest of the world stands by. Let’s get real—and let us start today by supporting the motion.

After the government responded that no decisions on diplomatic attendance had been made, Tim Loughton wrapped up the debate:

We have heard great phrases: sportswashing; the genocide Olympics, which it will become known as; and the veneer of diplomatic respectability. Let us reinforce the point that our argument is not with the people of China, but with the murderous regime of the Chinese Communist party Government…

I go back to the principles of Olympism:

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion.”

It is the people of China who are not allowed those privileges. It is for them that we are standing up. That is why we need a diplomatic and political boycott to make that point loud and clear. I hope that the House will pass the motion today.

The house agreed the motion.

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  • Brad Barrows 16th Jul '21 - 9:02am

    I do think a wider discussion about the use of sporting boycotts against countries and in which circumstances is needed because if we decide to pick on one country when we didn’t pick on other, we show a level of approval for the one which faced no consequences. So, for example, why did the Liberal Democrats not call for protests or sporting boycotts when England played Israel in the 2007 European Championships? Do we think that Israel’s denial of rights, land seizures, illegal settlement building and continued occupation of the West Bank since 1967 is not also sufficiently serious for a stand to be taken? So let’s not just have a policy against China…let’s have a policy that makes clear the circumstances when any country could find itself on the receiving end of sporting sanctions, and then apply that approach to each and every country without fear or favour.

  • Michael Cole 16th Jul '21 - 10:18am

    Is it worth considering a boycott of Chinese goods ? It was pretty effective against South Africa all those years ago.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '21 - 12:08pm

    @Michael Cole
    A boycott of Chinese goods? Are you serious? This isn’t ‘Cape apples and grapes’. It’s TVs, mobile phones, lighting, motor cars, clothing, domestic electrical appliances…………………………………………….. even 00 gauge railways figures. We are not talking about a economic minnow. We are talking about a leviathan, which we, as consumers in our desire for cheap goods, have allowed to grow exponentially.

    @Brad Barrows
    Some countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, including the USA, which probably was a massive help to Alan Wells in winning to 100 metres. That was to protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I believe. The British government prevaricated, and eventually allowed the British Olympic Committee to go ahead and compete under the Olympic flag, so there was no Union Jack and no National Anthem. Boycotts in the professional age are far more difficult to get through. Personally speaking I just wish they had started by cancelling the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and getting Tokyo and Paris to rerun them in 2024 and 2028 respectively, not for political reasons but for HEALTH REASONS.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '21 - 1:49pm

    Excellent from Wera.

    But to Brad, really, terrible although Likud are , equation of a transparent and vibrant democracy, where many open to new policies, and kinder attitudes, stand and win at elections, with a dictatorship that allows no opposition, is a ludicrous parallel.

  • A diplomatic and political boycott may be the only available response at this time. The debate on rebuffing the games has increased in recent months. China observers say the participation of western democratic countries, like the UK and the US, might play a part in boosting the ruling Chinese Communist Party legitimacy at home and abroad. It is doubtful it will bring about an immediate change of policy from the CCP, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/world/do-sporting-boycotts-work but it puts a maker down about the deep misgivings of the International community over what is happening in Xinjiang.
    China has risen to the status of an economic and military superpower over the past three decades. It has the world’s largest economy measured in terms of purchasing power and the largest navy in terms of number of vessels with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines compared with the US at 293 ships https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpeck/2020/09/01/china-has-the-worlds-largest-navy-and-its-getting-better-pentagon-warns/?sh=4db12cd47933
    The tensions between east and west seem set to rise with China and the US decoupling and setting up separated technology platforms including for the internet of things, 5G and financial payment systems like Swift.
    The sheer financial power of China coupled with its belt and road initiative is likely to see an Orwellian grouping around China of Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran reigned against the quad of the USA, India, Japan and Australia in the Asian region.
    Chinese spending power is also likely to dominate global financial markets in the coming years. The FT article asks What happens if Chinese household wealth is unleashed on the world?

  • Michael Cole 17th Jul '21 - 1:03pm

    John Marriot: Yes, of course I am aware of all that. I am not suggesting that a boycott would be painless or without inconvenience.

    You say: “We are talking about a leviathan, which we, as consumers in our desire for cheap goods, have allowed to grow exponentially.” I agree. But are you saying that we should simply allow this to continue ?

    As long as we allow the Chinese to dominate these markets, the development of alternative sources of supply will be inhibited.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul ’21 – 12:08pm:
    A boycott of Chinese goods? Are you serious?

    It doesn’t have to be ‘purist’ to be effective. There’s some evidence that the ongoing campaign to buy fewer EU goods is already having an impact. For the first time since records began we’ve imported more goods from outside the EU in every month this year and our EU trade deficit has contracted sharply…

    ‘Trade in Goods (T): EU: Balance: BOP: CP: SA’:

    Leave it on the shelf:

    Just think every purchase of UK products helps secure or create a local job. So leave EU goods on the supermarket shelves and maybe spend an extra £10 per week on UK goods.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Jul '21 - 4:37pm

    I can’t help but mention Tibet in these discussions. China set the tone for its treatment of minorites in its treatment of its indigenous population. Standing up to China for its human rights record and activities is not going to succeed unless it is part of a global effort to improve the treatment of victimised communites world wide.

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