A bipartisan Congressional committee on China has asked the president of the International Olympic Committee to postpone and relocate the 2022 Beijing Winter Games if China does not end its severe human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James McGovern, the chair and co-chair respectively of the bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), made the request in a letter issued Friday to IOC president Thomas Bach.
“No Olympics should be held in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity,” they wrote.
The letter was also signed by CECC commissioners Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Christopher Smith, both former commission chairs.
“This action would also be in the best interests of the athletes,” said the CECC commissioners. “We find it unfair for the IOC to force athletes to sacrifice their conscience in order to pursue their competitive goals, or vice versa.”
The letter comes amid intensifying international condemnation of China, as Western democracies consider full or partial boycotts of the Beijing Winter Games in response to the Chinese government’s harsh policies against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.
A UK parliamentary report on human rights abuses in the XUAR issued in early July recommended a partial boycott of the Beijing Games.
The commission pointed out in its letter that when it had urged the IOC in 2018 to use its leverage with the Chinese government to help end mass internment and abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the XUAR, the IOC never officially responded to the request.
“Since the 2018 letter, the situation facing Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic communities in the XUAR has deteriorated further, as documented by the Commission and numerous other governmental and non-governmental entities around the world,” it said.
The CECC also noted that in January the U.S. State Department determined that the Chinese government’s actions constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.
“We have seen no evidence that the IOC has taken any steps to press the Chinese government to change its behavior,” the commission said.
China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs in a network of detention camps since 2017, with smaller numbers of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, fellow Turkic-speaking people, also incarcerated in the system. Beijing says the camps are vocational training or re-education centers aimed at combating extremism in the XUAR.
The commission also pointed out that on March 24, 2020, that Bach announced jointly with the Japanese government a postponement of the Tokyo Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — four months before the Olympics were scheduled to begin. The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and opened on Friday.
“If the Olympic Games can be postponed for a year for a pandemic, they can be postponed a year for a genocide,” the letter said.
“Therefore, we ask that you announce a postponement of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games to allow a period of time for the host government to take concrete steps to end its gross violations of human rights, including genocide and crimes against humanity in the XUAR, with a commitment to move the Olympic Games to another country unless fundamental improvements in the human rights situation in the XUAR are verified by the IOC and an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism,” it said.
There was no immediate response from the IOC or the Chinese government.
The CECC will hold a hearing on U.S. corporate sponsorship of the 2022 Winter Olympics on July 27. It held a hearing on China, genocide, and the Olympics in May.
Other actions by the U.S. to penalize Beijing for its mistreatment of the Uyghurs include the imposition of import controls on Chinese firms that manufacture products with suspected forced Uyghur labor and sanctions against individuals and entities that the U.S. says are involved in human rights abuses.
In mid-July, the Senate passed a bill that would ban the import of products from the XUAR, which now must be passed by the House of Representatives. And last week, the U.S. government expanded a warning to American firms about doing business in the XUAR.