The United States Boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics


Photo source: Plexus

Zachary Whalen, Copy Editor

On Tuesday December 7th, the United States announced a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. England, Australia, and Canada have announced similar plans. Why are so many countries doing this, and what does this mean for the 2022 games?

Firstly, some clarification: the United States boycott does not mean that athletes won’t  be competing for team USA. In fact, the White House press secretary has said that any athletes attending will have their full support. However, the United States will not be sending any diplomatic or official personnel to China to accompany them. Presumably, neither will England, Canada, or Australia. 

All of these countries have cited concerns over human rights violations in China- but what does this mean specifically, and what are countries hoping to achieve by boycotting the games?

To understand where this crisis began, we need to travel back to 2017, when China could no longer deny reports of concentration camps in its territory. Satellite footage showed huge camps being rapidly built in the Xinjiang region, prompting the government to quickly label them as “vocational schools,” intended to combat “religious extremism” in Uyghur, Muslim, and Falun Gong citizens.

These motives alone would be enough to classify these camps as a human rights violation, particularly with how ruthless China has been with their cultural genocide. The prisoners are completely cut off from their family and culture. They are forced to renounce their religion and even sing Chinese propaganda songs. None of the women are allowed to wear head coverings, and, in extreme cases, those within are forced to consume foods that go against their religious beliefs. 

As horrific as these claims are, reports from those who were once trapped inside prove that conditions are even worse than they appear. Gulzira Auelkhan was confined for two months, forced to stitch gloves for the Chinese government for the duration of her stay. She told the New York Post: “There were cameras and police and you could not sit…I worked constantly, 14 hours a day, and was yelled at so much that it began to feel normal.” Clearly, these camps are not just meant to strip individuals of their religious identity, but to squeeze as much forced labor out of them as possible in the process. 

Tursunay Ziyawudun, another woman confined within those walls, reveals an even darker side to these camps. She recalls being gang raped and forced to watch other women be raped by over one hundred men. She was handcuffed so she could not defend herself, was electrocuted while naked, and got forcibly sterilized. Any women who disobeyed orders would be subjected to these atrocious punishments.  

Sexual abuse is not even the only instance of torture at these facilities. Electrocution and beatings are common punishments, along with the use of what the senior crisis person at Amnesty International referred to as a “tiger chair.” This medieval device is a chair that binds your hands and feet, leaving one immobilized in a painful position for hours.  

However, beyond even the worst torture lies a deeper, darker underbelly to these camps: organ harvesting. 

 The China Tribunal accused China of harvesting organs from religious minorities in June 2019. Evidence of this came from China’s remarkably quick turnaround time for organ donations: wealthy patients are promised organs ready for transplant in under two weeks. They can even schedule their appointments weeks in advance- implying the Chinese doctors know exactly when the organ donors will die and their body parts can be distributed. For contrast, the United States has a globally renowned organ donation system, but those in need often have to wait hundreds of days for organs of the correct size and blood type. 

Even more disturbing is the idea that some seek out organs from China’s captives specifically: there is a market in the Middle East for “halal” organs, or organs from a person who has never consumed pork or alcohol. The Uyghur, Muslim, and Faul Gong people fit the bill. 

So, how does this all connect back to the United States?

These claims, of organ harvesting, forced labor, and what many are calling a “cultural genocide,” are the core accusations against China that have made US withdraw support for the 2022 Olympics. According to CNN, The United States government believes that they cannot send representatives to China and act like“buissness as usual” when so many reports of genocide have gone unanswered. 

However, will any of these measures result in substantial change? America is fully aware of a brutal violation of civil liberties, an attempt to eradicate an entire culture- but all Biden can muster are trade bans and a slightly smaller presence at the Olympics. He plays the role of a champion of human rights, but in reality is refusing to do anything that could lose China as an ally. It is a brazen display of what America will allow countries to get away with, so long as they supply us with enough cheap goods. 

At the very least, citizens will no longer have to wonder how the United States could have been passive for most of the Holocaust, refusing to interfere until it was threatened: now they can see for themselves just how selfish the American government can be.