Countries face pressure to boycott upcoming Beijing Olympics over China's human rights abuses

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Posted at 10:36 AM, Apr 06, 2021

With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China quickly approaching, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and countries around the world are facing pressure from advocacy groups who say the games should be moved or boycotted over the country’s notorious human rights abuses.

In recent years, human rights groups and media outlets have shed light on China’s heinous treatment of Uyghurs — a Muslim minority population that primarily live in northwest China. Reports indicate that Uyghurs have been forced into detention camps.

At the camps, which the Chinese government primarily refers to as “re-education centers,” the Uyghurs are sometimes forced into hard labor. Reports have alleged that some American companies have purchased materials or products from those camps.

In February, the BBC reported that some Uyghurs allege they’ve been raped, sexually abused and tortured at the camps.

Shortly before leaving office, former Sec. of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration issued a statement calling China’s treatment of Uyghurs “genocide.”

Human rights advocates have also been critical of China’s anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong — a province that has typically held its own democracy independent from the mainland’s communist rule. However, China has recently pressured Hong Kong to adopt more pro-China policies and passed harsh laws that punish pro-democracy protesters.

As a result, several human rights groups — and even some politicians — have called on the U.S. to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympic games. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Florida, is among the congressman calling for the U.S. not to participate in February.

"I look at the history of these authoritarian regimes that were legitimized by hosting the games," Waltz said, according to the St. Augustine Record. "After hosting the Olympics, (Adolph) Hitler in Nazi Germany invaded Poland and in Russia, (Vladimir) Putin invaded Crimea and Ukraine only a month after having the Sochi games. I fear with the whitewashing that will go on with Beijing hosting the games, the whitewashing of the genocide and the quelling of freedoms in Hong Kong, how will Chairman Xi (Jinping) be emboldened?"

IOC President Thomas Bach said earlier this year that the Olympics strives to stay out of politics. However, he has met with activists and heard their concerns.

“We are not a super-world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the U.N. security council, no G7, no G20 has solutions,” Bach said at a press conference in February, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. has boycotted the Olympics once before, in 1980. At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. chose not to send its athletes to Russia, and four years later, Russia would boycott the Summer Games held in Los Angeles.

However, analysts with the Eurasia Group told CNBC that countries or advertisers that sit out the 2022 Olympics may face a tougher road this time around.

They note that while countries and advertisers could win some goodwill by sitting out 2022, they could face retaliation from China through either political sanctions or commercial retaliation.

“If a company does not boycott the Games, it risks reputational damage with Western consumers,” analysts told CNBC. “But if it does, it risks being shut out of the Chinese market.”