House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on Tuesday for a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in response to China’s human rights record.
“We can’t go on like there’s nothing wrong with the Olympics going to China,” Pelosi told Congress’ Human Rights Commission and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in a hearing on the games.
Pelosi suggested in her comments that athletes should still be able to participate in the games, but that world leaders and royalty should not travel to attend them in person.
“When heads of state go to China, in the face of a genocide going on while you’re sitting there, it really begs the question: what moral authority do you have to speak about human rights anywhere in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government while they are committing genocide?”
Pelosi criticized corporate sponsors of the games for “looking the other way at China’s abuses out of concern for their profits”. She specifically called on companies that have reportedly lobbied to weaken parts of a bipartisan law targeting the use of forced labor in the Xinjiang region.
“If we don’t speak out against human rights violations in China for commercial reasons, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights everywhere,” Pelosi said.
China calls accusations of violating the human rights of Muslims in Xinjiang “lies and misinformation”.
The games will open on February 4, 2022.
Pelosi acknowledged that her proposed diplomatic boycott may not work. “I don’t know if it’s possible because we haven’t been able to do that in the past,” she said.
In 2008, Pelosi called on then-President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics in protest at China’s human rights record, which at the time was largely marred by the government’s crackdown in Tibet.
Bush attended the opening of those games, along with more than 80 other heads of state.
Activists and lawmakers from both parties have called on President Joe Biden to opt out of the 2022 Olympics in protest. They cite China’s reported treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang — which both the Trump and Biden administrations have called genocide — as well as Beijing’s response to protests in Hong Kong.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it is against boycotts, in part because they affect athletes who have trained for years to compete.
The White House has previously left the door open for a boycott, but press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that such a move is not discussed.
“While China has changed in some ways over the past 30 years, it is appalling that its human rights record has deteriorated,” Pelosi said during the virtual hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
Pelosi emphasized that she is a devoted Olympic fan and considers the achievements of athletes in the games a source of pride.
“Let’s honor them at home,” Pelosi said. “Let’s not honor the Chinese government by sending heads of state to China to show their support for their athletes.”
“Silence on this issue is unacceptable. It allows China’s abuses,” Pelosi said.