British MPs including Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey have called for a Team GB boycott over Beijing’s alleged ‘ethnic cleansing’ against Uighurs who have been imprisoned and subjected to political ‘re-education’ in Xinjiang.
But Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-controlled Global Times, warned on Sunday that ‘China will seriously sanction any country that follows such a call’.
‘Boycotting 2022 Beijing Winter Games, an unpopular idea, won’t receive wide support,’ he declared.
One year to go: The Olympic rings are lit up at the Olympic Tower in Beijing last Friday, a year before the 2022 winter showpiece is due to begin
The Lib Dems said at the weekend that Britain’s athletes should not be ‘part of a propaganda exercise’ for Communist China in 2022.
Mr Davey compared the upcoming Games to a notorious 1930s photograph in which the England football team made Nazi salutes before a friendly in Berlin.
‘No-one can be proud of past failures to act, so today we must act,’ he said.
‘The 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games will be used as a propaganda tool for a regime committing genocide.
‘Our brightest and best athletes should not be forced to be part of a propaganda exercise for the Chinese Communist Party whilst it tries to wipe the Uighur people off the face of the planet.’
Labour MP Chris Bryant has also called for a boycott, telling the Guardian that ‘I just can’t see why anybody would want to go the Winter Olympics in Beijing’.
‘I think it’s just extraordinary that the British government seems to have no backbone about it,’ he said.
‘I think the British Olympic Association should be calling for the Winter Olympics to move, and if it doesn’t move, then we should be boycotting it.’
A watchtower at a high-security facility in Xinjiang where a million people are thought to have been detained at re-education facilities which have been likened to Nazi concentration camps
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab did not rule out a boycott of the 2022 Games when questioned by a parliamentary committee last year.
‘Generally speaking my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point where that may not be possible,’ he told MPs.
‘I would say let’s gather the evidence, let’s work with our international partners, let’s consider in the round what further action we need to take.’
Human rights groups have raised concerns about the 2022 event ever since it was awarded to Beijing in 2015 – seven years after the city hosted the summer Games.
Since then, the West’s relations with China have deteriorated over a long list of issues including the Uighurs but also the coronavirus pandemic and Hong Kong.
But the US is not currently planning to boycott the Games, with America’s Olympic and Paralympic Committee saying it opposed such a move.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that ‘we’re not currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics’.
The US famously boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with many US allies joining in the protest.
That prompted the USSR and most of its Eastern Bloc allies to retaliate when the Games were held in Los Angeles four years later.
But Britain stayed out of the geopolitical fray by taking part at both events, and also rejected calls to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Trump-era US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (pictured) used his final hours in office to officially label China’s treatment of the Uighurs as ‘genocide’
The UK government says there is ‘growing’ evidence of ‘gross human rights violations’ in Xinjiang including forced labour and illegal detention.
China is thought to have imprisoned more than a million people in a vast network of detention centres which have been compared to Nazi concentration camps.
Human rights groups say that Uighurs are subjected to forced sterilisations and political brainwashing at the camps.
In its final hours in office, Donald Trump’s administration last month officially labelled China’s treatment of the Uighurs as ‘genocide’.
‘We are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,’ former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said.
Joe Biden’s administration has said it will review the ‘genocide’ ruling on procedural grounds, but has not questioned the substance of the allegations.
China rejects the allegations, denying the existence of ‘re-education camps’ and claiming that Uighurs live in ‘peace and contentment, unity and harmony’.
Beijing also claims that the Uighur population has grown in recent decades and uses this as though it proves that the ‘genocide’ claims cannot be true.