China has issued a stern response to Nancy Pelosi, the US House of Representatives speaker, over her plea for a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics on the grounds of human rights violations.
The claims centre on the alleged detention of more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang province in China, which some observers claim amount to genocide.
However, Chinese officials are accusing the US of hypocrisy, with Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in Washington, telling Reuters: “I wonder what makes some US politicians think they can actually have the so-called ‘moral authority’ on human rights issues, they are in no position, either historically or currently, to make wanton groundless criticism against China.”
Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, added: "Some US individuals' remarks are full of lies and disinformation. US politicians should stop using the Olympic movement to play despicable political games."
He also criticised the US's human rights record, notably "the continued spread of xenophobia, white supremacy and discrimination against people of African and Asian descent and Islamophobia".
The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in Beijing next February but China and the International Olympic Committee are facing pressure from politicians and human rights groups over the event.
On Tuesday Pelosi urged heads of state to not attend the games, albeit athletes would still be able participate.
She said: “What I propose – and join those who are proposing – is a diplomatic boycott [in which] lead countries of the world withhold their attendance at the Olympics.
“For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing – while you’re sitting there in your seat – really begs the question, what moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world?”
In addition, on Tuesday, a coalition of human rights activists urged athletes to join the diplomatic boycott.
Representatives from the World Uyghur Congress, Tibet Action Institute, China Against the Death Penalty, Students for a Free Tibet and Campaign for Uyghurs said the continued allegations meant a full boycott was the only option.
Lhadon Tethong, from the Tibet Action Institute, said: “There’s still time to make a difference. This does not have to be the end of the story. Athletes have incredible power and the platform to change the world.
“If they can speak out for the right of all people to exist, and to live free from fear and repression… that at this point would make a huge different. We appeal to the athletes to speak out and use their power because they have a lot.”
Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said the organisation was concerned about the “oppression of the Uyghur population” but preventing US athletes from participating was “certainly not the answer. Past Olympic boycotts have failed to achieve political ends".