China's Winter Olympics

Heritage Explains

China's Winter Olympics

What the Biden administration should do to stop China from hosting the 2022 Olympics.

Michelle Cordero: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Michelle Cordero and this is Heritage Explains. The Olympics are the most prestigious sporting event in the world and it's a privilege for a country to be selected as a host. The International Olympic Committee picked Beijing to host the 2022 winter games. And if the committee gets what it wants, Beijing will become the only city in the world to host both the summer and winter games.

Cordero: In 2008, Beijing spent hundreds of millions on its summer games and its opening ceremony was a massive display of national pride. Is that a display that the rest of the world is ready to see again in 2022? The Chinese Communist Party is actively carrying out genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, Christians, and other religious groups. The regime has also accelerated its crackdown on citizens in Hong Kong, and continue to lie about unleashing COVID-19 across the world.

Clip 1: President Biden is facing some pressure to boycott the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing Republican Congressman Mike Waltz introduced a resolution going after the Chinese government is a brutal dictatorship with no regard for human rights.

Clip 2: The UN says it will consult with allies about how to handle the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing. That's sparked discussion of a possible boycott over China's human rights record. Last year, more than 160 human rights groups urged the International Olympic Committee to hold the Beijing games elsewhere.

Clip 3: China has dismissed concerns that the US may boycott next year's winter Olympics in Beijing. The foreign ministry says that politicizing sports runs counter to the Olympic spirit. There've been mixed messages on the issue from Washington. The White House had indicated that it was considering a joint boycott with allies as a protest against Beijing's human rights abuses. A State Department spokesman then confirmed discussions were underway, but later that was denied by a senior State Department official.

>>> A Strong U.S. Response to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

Cordero: So where does the White House stand on this issue? Can we force a boycott and would that even make a difference? Our guest today is Olivia Enos. A senior policy analyst in Heritage's Asian study center. In a new report, Enos says that a boycott isn't enough. What she thinks the Biden administration should do and why it's so important after this short break.

Cordero: So why is it important who and where Olympic games are hosted?

Olivia Enos: Well, the Olympics are the most privileged sporting event globally, and it is a real honor to be selected to host. And we know that for the 2022 winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee made the decision to select Beijing. Beijing, China has been engaging in some of the worst human rights violations, arguably of the 21st century, particularly with the genocide and crimes against humanity that they have carried out against Uyghurs. And so I think that there are many around the globe and here in the US who are questioning whether or not China should be afforded this privilege, especially given what a high profile honor it is to be able to host a sporting event like this.

Cordero: So what are our options when it comes to China hosting the Olympics? Is it the issue if China can host the Olympics or if the United States should participate, if China is hosting?

Enos: That's a really great question. I think that right now there hasn't been much consensus over the next steps that the Biden administration should take when it comes to participating in the Olympics. We've seen a lot of debate in Congress, in media, amongst civil society as to whether or not the US should boycott. And any event of a boycott, the Olympics would go on as planned with Beijing as host, but American athletes would not be able to participate. We've seen past instances where the US has boycotted, for example, the Moscow Olympics in the '80s and we didn't end up getting the policy deliverables that we want.

Enos: So I put out a report this past week that advocates for the US to build a bipartisan international coalition that would pressure the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Olympics for the purposes of selecting a new host country. And one of the benefits of pursuing such an action is that it won't punish American athletes because they'll still be able to participate in the Olympics just under a different host, one that isn't perpetrating genocide against its citizens.

Cordero: I think this is an important point we aren't hearing about in the media at all. We're only hearing about boycotts. Is there even a real possibility that we could get the games moved? Has that ever happened before?

Enos: So this definitely would be unprecedented action in terms of selecting a new host for the Olympics, but it would not be unprecedented to postpone the Olympics. In fact, we have recent history to thank for this. During the pandemic, the IOC made the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, which were originally slated to take place in 2020, and they moved them to 2021 due to concerns over the pandemic. That decision was made just four months prior to the original date in 2020 that the Olympics were supposed to be hosted. Right now we're a little bit less than a year out from when the Beijing 2022 winter Olympics are to be held. And so it does seem like if there is a political world to do so, there will be a way to postpone the Olympics.

Enos: I think that that is just the most practical option and the one that punishes American athletes, the least and I think it's so important to keep in mind that it was in fact, a political decision for the International Olympic Committee to select Beijing. They view it as a political opportunity, but American athletes shouldn't be punished for political worries over particular issues. And that's why it's a far superior option for us to postpone and select a new house than it would be to, as you say, boycott.

Cordero: So let's talk about some of the reasons China shouldn't be allowed to host the games. Can you start at the top and run through, maybe we'll stick with two or three. I know it [crosstalk 00:08:04] that.

Enos: There's a litany of reasons for why Beijing is not an appropriate host, but I think a lot of momentum for either boycotting or postponing and selecting a new host has been gained after the Trump administration on their final day in office issued an atrocity determination saying that genocide and crimes against humanity not only took place against Uighur Muslims in China, but is currently ongoing and not something that's been echoed by the Biden administration. And so there's an acknowledgement that these types of atrocities are happening today.

Enos: A genocidal regime should not be allowed to host the Olympics and we shouldn't be repeating the mistakes that we made in 1936 when the US did participate in the Olympics when Nazi Germany served host. So I think this is a real opportunity to learn from those past mistakes, but there are so many other human rights violations undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong and the way that we've seen Beijing doing. Lying to the international community about when COVID-19 first started spreading and many of the activities they've taken to cover up the truth about what happened then. There are so many reasons, but I think that those really do typify the type of/and the nature of the regime that we're dealing with whenever we are working with the Chinese Communist Party.

Cordero: And so by allowing athletes to participate, the whole world is turning a blind eye to what's really going on in China and sending a message that we're okay with this nation's offenses.

Enos: Yes, and I think that's something that we absolutely cannot and should not do, especially since... and very important part of the United States is historical diplomacy worldwide has been the promotion and the safeguarding of human rights and freedoms. And so I don't think that in the event of the Olympics, those concerns go by the wayside. Furthermore, the International Olympic Committee itself has said that starting in 2024, they're going to be integrating best practices for doing business and for safeguarding human rights into their paradigm for their decision-making when it comes to selecting a host country.

Enos: What better way to demonstrate that the IOC does actually care about human rights than to apply what they know to be true, that China, that Beijing is a human rights violator and revoking and rescinding their ability to host the Olympics. 2024 is too late for the 1.8 million to three million Uyghurs currently held in political reeducation facilities. The time is now to send a clear signal that Beijing is not going to get away with hosting a privileged sporting event. Meanwhile, it's undermining the rights and the freedoms of its citizens.

Cordero: That was my next question to you. What type of rules does the IOC have as to who they can host?

Enos: I mean, it's a really complicated and deliberative process. I mean, to some extent it feels almost as if it is shrouded in secrecy to some extent, because the IOC has very little accountability mechanisms whereby the international community can't intervene. But one important thing to note is that every country has their own country-based Olympic committee that serves as a representative to the International Olympic Committee. In the US's case, it's the US and Paralympics Olympic Committee. That committee, Congress actually has some oversight over them.

Enos: They're considered federally chartered and so Congress not only has oversight, but it's been suggested in the past that it's possible to revoke their tax deductible status or to even revoke their federal charter. And so Congress should really be considering ways that it can increase oversight over the IOC's decision-making and really make it clear that they're not going to stand by when the IOC chooses such egregious human rights violators as China to host the games.

Cordero: It's interesting that they would pick 2024. It's almost as if they realize the misstep and it's too late in their minds to fix it so they just picked the next coming time that they could.

Enos: Yeah. That's such a great point. I didn't even think of it that way, but I think, yeah, you're probably right.

Cordero: So what is the Biden administration saying about this? What have they publicly said about the Olympics?

Enos: The Biden administration has made only a few statements on the Olympics. It came up in a press conference that was chaired by Ned Price, where he said that they were looking into the potential for a boycott, but those statements were later rescinded and replaced with the idea that while the Olympics are a bit far out, so we haven't quite put together our next action steps for how we're going to respond. And so my hope is that this paper and I'm not the lone voice out there. There's some pretty fantastic resources from a friend of mine, Mike Mazza at the American Enterprise Institute, who has also advocated for postponing and moving the games.

Enos: And so hopefully these papers will fill in the gaps and if the Biden administration doesn't act, hopefully Congress will step up to put a lot of pressure to postpone and select a new host country and in lieu of that to consider at the very least a diplomatic boycott and requests for greater transparency from the Chinese Communist Party.

Cordero: Is that what it would take for Congress? Would Congress have to suggest this and would there have to be a vote in order for it to happen?

Enos: I don't think so. I mean, you could definitely have a resolution or a sense of Congress that expressed the desire to see the games be postponed and moved, and that would certainly demonstrate significant political will from the legislative branch. But I do think that the Biden administration has made responding to China's human rights violations a priority and in fact, even just over the last couple of weeks, we saw a great example of alliances across the globe, working together to sanction Chinese Communist Party members and entities over the role they played in committing atrocities in Ching Chong.

Enos: This included the US, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom. A coalition like that actually may form the basis for a similar coalition to pressure the IOC to postpone and select a new host. So hopefully that's the direction that we're headed, but thus far, it's been relatively quiet in terms of a tangible, practical, next steps that the executive branch will take in response to the Olympics.

Cordero: And there's also a lot of athletes out there who you would think given the amount of woke athletes that we see expressing, virtue signaling, and letting people know how they feel about things. You would hope that they would stand up and express how they feel about this particular issue.

Enos: I think it would be great to see athletes, to see civil society, even to see businesses considering the role that they can play in responding to the 2022 Olympics. I think that there are ways historically that we have seen throughout the Olympics athletes, some of whom boycotted their specific events over apartheid in South Africa. Other instances where US athletes refused to dip the flag at the opening ceremonies, really powerful signals that are possibilities for American athletes that do participate in the games.

Enos: And so I would strongly encourage athletes to do so, but I think there's also a lot of onus on civil society and the business community to consider, for example, whether or not they want to air advertisements during the opening ceremonies, which are almost certainly going to be a propaganda effort for the Chinese Communist Party and they should also consider whether or not they want to financially support Beijing in any way, if the Olympics do in fact go forward.

Enos: So there's lots to think about, lots to be doing and not all of it has to be government action. I think that's one of the wonderful things about being here in America is that social society plays such a critical role in our body politic. And so encouraging individuals not to stay silent in the lead up to the Beijing games and to shed a real spotlight on the plate of Uyghurs on the persecution of Christians, on the undermining of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. I think these are all really potentially powerful ways for civil society to make their voices heard, especially for those who are often voiceless inside of China and who needs somebody to advocate for them beyond their own borders.

Cordero: Thank you so much for talking with us on this issue, Olivia. I know February 2022 seems like a long time from now, but hopefully it's just enough time to keep this drum beat going.

Enos: I have the same hope, Michelle. Thanks so much for shining a spotlight on these issues.

Cordero: That's it for this week's episode. I'll link to Olivia's report in our show notes. Tim's up next week. We'll see you then.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher with editing by John Popp.