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US Lawmakers Propose Including Beijing Olympics Boycott in Defense Bill

With less than 100 days until the Beijing Winter Olympics, a bipartisan group of senators is proposing an amendment to an annual defense bill that would require a diplomatic boycott of the sporting event over allegations of human-rights abuses by China, including forced labor.

Reuters reported Thursday that Utah Republican Mitt Romney is leading the amendment, which would bar Secretary of State Antony Blinken from using federal funds to “support or facilitate” the attendance of federal employees at the Games. The language of the measure echoes that of China-related legislation that passed the Senate in June, the outlet said. With all of Congress focused on President Joe Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure and spending bill, however, the bill has been left in a holding pattern in the House of Representatives.

If greenlit, the new amendment would add the diplomatic boycott to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress has pushed through every year since 1961. Mirroring the position of the U.S. State Department, it urged for an “end to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing human-rights abuses, including the Uyghur genocide,” but allows U.S. funding for athletes, along with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its employees and contractors.

The boycott would “hurt the Chinese Communist Party, rather than punish our American athletes,” Romney told Reuters. Co-sponsors of the amendment include Tim Kaine (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Todd Young (D-Ind.), who are, like Romney, members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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This isn’t the first time U.S. lawmakers have demanded action against Beijing Winter Olympics. In July, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, chair and co-chair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China, called for the Games to be postponed or relocated unless the Chinese government ends its “egregious human-rights abuses” on ethnic minorities.

“To proceed with business as usual is implied consent and suggests the IOC has learned nothing from the Chinese government’s use of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to score propaganda wins and distract from its appalling human-rights record,” they wrote in a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, dated July 23. “The IOC is on course to set a dark precedent where the behavior of future Olympic host governments is unconstrained by the international spotlight provided by the Olympic Games.”

Neither is the United States alone in its consternation over Beijing, which has vociferously denied the alleged crimes against humanity. The same month, the British House of Commons passed a motion asking the U.K. government to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics as long as the Chinese Communist Party persists in its various “atrocities.”

“It is time for the government to stop sending mixed messages to Beijing and to toughen up on its response to the Chinese government’s abuses,” Conservative Member of Parliament Tim Loughton, the author of the motion, said at the time. “Authoritarian regimes have a long and troubling history of using the Olympics to whitewash their crimes and spread their propaganda on a global scale. The Chinese Communist Party knows this and so far is getting away with it.”

Shortly after, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved of a resolution calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, a sign of escalating tensions between the European Union and China over Beijing’s “repressive measures” in territories such as Hong Kong.

The 28-point non-binding resolution urged EU officials and member states to turn down all government and diplomatic invitations to the Beijing Games “unless the Chinese government demonstrates a verifiable improvement in the human-rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.”

“While in Hong Kong the freedoms constitutionally promised for many years are systematically eliminated by Beijing, the European Parliament demonstrates the united support for human rights as the core tenet of European foreign policy,” Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s China delegation, said at the time. “It is clear that many EU member states and also the European Commission are reluctant to speak out against China’s repressive measures in Hong Kong. It is therefore all the more important that the European Parliament stays firm in its solidarity with the citizens of Hong Kong and their fight for democracy and freedom.”

It’s unclear, however, if all this talk of boycotts is a moot point. Beijing 2022 organizers have indicated that foreign spectators, including athletes’ friends and relatives, will not be permitted to attend because of Covid-19 fears. Some Chinese fans from the mainland will be allowed to attend their Games, as long as they adhere to certain protocols.

“This will facilitate the growth of winter sports in China by giving those spectators a first-hand Olympic and Paralympic experience of elite winter sports, as well as bringing a favorable atmosphere to the venues,” the IOC and International Paralympic Committee said in September. “However, all parties feel for the athletes and the spectators from around the world, knowing that the restriction on spectators from outside mainland China had to be put in place in order to ensure the safe holding of the Games this winter.”