Calls for 2022 Olympic boycott amidst Uighur genocide

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No Beijing Olympics?

On February 17, the Canadian government decided to vote on whether or not the state sponsored mass detention, cultural destruction, religious suppression, and killing of ethnic Uighurs by the Chinese government can be defined as genocide. The suffering of the Uighur people has been known to the global community for years. Yet so far, the majority of Western governments have consciously turned a blind eye for the sake of corporate profit while human lives and an entire way of life are being crushed under the heels of a totalitarian regime. With the coming 2022 Beijing Olympics, however, world leaders are coming face to face with these crimes, and are being forced to reckon with the morality (or at least the optics) of holding one of the events symbolic of global unity in a country that has been aggressively pursuing marginalization.

On February 15, Conservative opposition leader Erin O’Toole (apt name) formally called on the Liberal Government to demand the 2022 Beijing Olympics be held elsewhere, stopping short of calling for a complete boycott. Prior to this, several publications from either side of the political spectrum and a growing number of human rights organizations have also called on global leaders to boycott the 2022 Olympics and formally denounce the CCP’s countless human rights violations, including the ongoing Uighur genocide. These calls have been echoed from a growing number of individual and grassroots organizations, and with each new article on the Uighur genocide global opinion has begun to turn sharply against President Jinping and his regime in Beijing. Now, I hear you asking, what exactly has been going on in China? Well, lucky for you, here’s a brief rundown.

Since 2017 and President Xi Jinping’s ascension to complete power, the CCP has launched a total crackdown on any and all ethnic or political minorities within its borders, most extensively in Hong Kong and the northwestern Xinjiang province. The majority of Xinjiang’s population belong to the Uighurs, an ethnic minority with strong cultural ties to Islam who have historically been semi-nomadic and lived outside of China’s traditional borders. While the CCP does officially recognize 54 ‘traditional’ minority groups, the Uighurs are not counted amongst them, and, due in large part to their Islamic faith, they have been deemed by Beijing to be culturally un-Chinese and thereby disloyal to the state. In late 2017, the CCP took a page out of Dick Cheney’s playbook and used claims of Islamist terrorism as a casus bello to set up an extensive system of surveillance (even by totalitarian standards) in the region and crank police and military presence up to eleven.

After setting the board, Uighur community and religious leaders were either detained immediately or began disappearing at an alarming rate under extremely suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, a complex system of concentration camps (labelled ‘detention centres’ by government officials) was built across the province by mostly unpaid prisoner labour. Individuals, mostly men initially, were separated from their communities and detained en masse throughout these camps where they have been subject to slave labour, physical and mental torture, state sanctioned indoctrination, and in some cases, arbitrary execution. Uighur children are also being separated from their families and sent away for ‘re-education’ whereupon the parents are coerced into assisting Chinese authorities in exchange for the child’s return. Also, Uighurs are forced to make public, feudalistic oaths of loyalty to the state, renounce their faith as Muslims, or allow state officials to take residence in their homes. Sanctioned rape and sexual assault upon Uighur women (who are also encouraged to take ethnic Han Chinese husbands) has also been widely reported, and there have been rumors of involuntary harvesting of prisoner’s organs since 2018.

The oppression, detention, and internment of the Uighur people has been documented since at least 2002, when Beijing, led by then-President Jiang Zemin, began using the September 11 attacks on the US as a justification for escalating their crack down in Xinjiang. However, outside the news media little has been said or done. The fact remains that China is the world’s biggest market that Western corporations have been drooling over for decades. In turn, short-term greed and corporate profit has trumped ethics and basic human empathy for most international organizations or national governments, and Canada has so far been no exception (I should also note the complete irony of the U.N.’s Human Rights department, which is currently led by China). However, the fast-approaching 2022 Olympics set to be held in Beijing has forced the global public to pay greater attention and scrutiny to the CCP’s actions, and the results have so far been promising. Communities and politicians have begun to question whether or not holding an international spectacle of peace and cooperation is in line with China’s barbaric domestic policy, and some are even beginning to call for a complete boycott of these games. Why, you ask? Well, holding the Olympics in Beijing right now would be like having Nazi Germany host in 1942 or Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1934.

With all that said, though, in regards to Canada’s stance on the issue, there are reasons to be pessimistic. While Erin O’Toole’s call for the Olympics to be moved elsewhere might seem like the first good thing the Conservative party has said or done in a literal decade, don’t be fooled. Even if the IOC wasn’t the most corrupt and backwards bureaucracy outside of the 1982’s Brazil, moving the Olympics at this point is tantamount to fantasy. As well, the move reeks of political opportunism, especially with the increasing possibility of a federal election in September and the current vaccine debacle. Given his political track record, Erin O’Toole likely cares about the plight of the Uighur people about as much as I do with meeting deadlines (insert funny editors note). While the upcoming parliamentary vote might be a good first step, given PM Trudeau’s silence on the matter and the general atmosphere of his administration, there’s a good chance it will all amount to nothing but strong words and little practical action.

Words are not enough anymore, official statements of disapproval must be backed up with practical responses such as economic sanctions, diversification of global manufacturing, and international action against the CCP’s agenda. For the sake of the Uighur people, and for the sake of our own basic morality, we can not allow ourselves to repeat the mistakes of British PM Chamberlain and appease tyranny for the status quo.

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