Speaker Pelosi Calls for Boycott of Beijing Olympics. Will It Matter?

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Posted: May 21, 2021 6:00 PM
Speaker Pelosi Calls for Boycott of Beijing Olympics. Will It Matter?

Source: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File

Update: This article has been updated to reflect yesterday's press briefing. The White House policy has not changed.

Earlier this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission where she urged a "diplomatic boycott" of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The hearing, chaired by Reps. James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), featured many speakers urging such a boycott, with Rep. Smith even referring to the upcoming Winter Games as the "Genocide Olympics" at the closing of his opening remarks. The bipartisan condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party is encouraging, though it's worth wondering, what, if anything, will come of it, and when. 

The commission, as the hearing's name of "China, Genocide and the Olympics" suggests, is concerned with the genocide and human rights abuses the CCP has committed against the Uyghur populations, which includes family separations, slave labor, sending people to concentration camps in the name of reeducation, as well as population control through forced abortions, sterilization, and IUDs. 

The Washington Post editorial board last week published an opinion piece, "China’s repression of Uyghurs is not only cultural, but also physical, a new report shows," which references "a precipitous drop in Uyghur birthrates is evident in areas of southern Xinjiang. This appears to be the result of a drive by China at mass sterilization, coerced birth control and punitive family policies."

Here are the relevant remarks from Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday

Here's what I propose, and join those who – is a diplomatic boycott.  I don't know if it's possible, because we have not succeeded in the past.  And I'm a big sports fan.  I watch the Olympics in the middle of the night.  You ever see me during the Olympics season, and I'm never sleeping.  I'm always watching because usually it's in a different time zone.  And to see the discipline, the focus, the dedication of our young, of our athletes out there is just the sources of such pride.  Let's honor them at home.  

Let's not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China to show their support for their athletes.

When they come home, I show them even more.  Not, ‘You’re home now, it's over, goodbye.’  But even more – more respect, adulation, really, for their, for what they've done and to honor all of them, not just the medal winners. 

But for heads of state to go to China in wake of a genocide that is ongoing while you're sitting there in your seats really begs the question: What moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world if you're willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?  So honor your athletes at home.  Let's have a diplomatic boycott, if in fact, this Olympics takes place.  Silence on this issue is unacceptable.  It enables China's abuses.

Yet, what the Biden administration is doing may ultimately amount to "[s]ilence on this issue," which a fellow Democratic leader rightly calls "unacceptable." 

If you follow the pattern of China calling the United States out for its "racism" and "racist view," as an official did following Speaker Pelosi's remarks, these remarks came from the Biden administration, actually. 

The administration has not addressed Zhao's remarks. When the White House did address questions for a boycott last month, there was some initial confusion, as it appeared there was a possibility, but ultimately it was decided it's much too far away for us to deserve any real answer. 

The U.S. Olympic Committee said in March it was against a boycott. 

During the Friday afternoon press briefing, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki if the position had changed on boycotting the Olympics. Psaki emphasized multiple times it had not.

"We are quite outspoken on human rights, the values of the United States in our conversations with the Chinese government and leaders, and any country where we have concerns — as was clear in the readout that — from the President’s call with President Xi, and as has been clear in every engagement we’ve had with the Chinese leaders.  But our position on the Beijing Olympics has not changed," Psaki offered.

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This silence comes following particularly passionate pleas in no uncertain terms from the bipartisan commission.