Labour demands political boycott of Beijing Olympics over Uyghur treatment

Elliot Chappell
© testing/

Labour frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Jo Stevens have called on the government to support a political boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games if China does not allow UN investigators unfettered access to the Xinjiang province.

Ahead of the competition starting in February 2022, the Shadow Foreign and Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretaries said condemnation of human rights abuses against the Uyghur people must be “matched by decisive action”.

Nandy described the games as a “critical moment” to “stand up for our values”, adding: “As long as China continues to block access to Xinjiang, no self-respecting government should even consider handing a public relations coup to Beijing.

“The UK parliament recently took the unprecedented step of recognising what is happening to the Uyghur is genocide. After a decade of Tory Prime Ministers rolling out the red carpet to Beijing, this must be the turning point.

“The government must use this moment to call time on one of the world’s most appalling human rights atrocities. We cannot turn a blind eye to genocide.”

More than a million Uyghur people are estimated to have been detained at camps in Xinjiang. MPs declared that genocide is taking place the region as they approved a motion, which does not compel action from the government, in April.

Several governments around the world, including the US, have described the situation as genocide. Other governments and numerous human rights and legal groups say the evidence proves “unprecedented levels” of crimes against humanity.

“These games had the potential to be a massive international moment when nations come together after the trauma of the pandemic. But the UK cannot in all conscience give tacit support to the Chinese regime while the evidence of genocide against the Uyghurs continues to mount,” Stevens said today.

“This cannot be a propaganda opportunity for a government inflicting such horrors on its own people. It’s time for our government to make its position clear.”

Dominic Raab indicated in October last year that Britain may not be able to participate in the winter Olympics next year if evidence of the abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China mounts. He said the games would be “looked at very carefully”.

The Foreign Secretary told the foreign affairs parliamentary committee: “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when it is not possible.”

The Chinese government launched the ‘strike hard campaign against violent terrorism’ in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in May 2014, seven years ago.

The number of Turkic Muslims detained since the crackdown began is also unknown, but it is thought that between several hundred thousand and one million have been detained in so-called political education camps.

The US estimates that as many as two million people passed through the camps between April 2017 and December 2018, and a leaked memo by Chinese authorities said 15,683 “suspicious persons” were taken into custody in a single week in 2017.

Chinese Communist Party committee secretary for the region Chen Quanguo has been quoted as saying that the centres should “teach like a school, be managed like the military, and be defended like a prison” and that the facilities are surrounded by perimeter walls, guard watchtowers and armed guards to “prevent escapes”.

Campaigners have called for companies sponsoring the Beijing games to use their influence with the Chinese government ahead of the 2022 event, asking them to educate and inform the world of the persecution under way in Xinjiang province.

Groups in ten different companies have dubbed the competition the “genocide games” and have urged businesses such as Airbnb, which secured a £500m deal for the Olympics starting with the Beijing games, to withdraw their sponsorship.

Nandy has described ministers’ approach to China as “deeply confused“. Following discussion on Huawei and the 5G network, she warned that they have pursued China “for its investment without regard to the consequences for national security”.

She joined Emily Thornberry in January to urge Conservative MPs to “vote with their consciences” on trade bill amendments relating to human rights, emphasising the crimes that the Chinese government has been accused of committing against the Uyghur community.

The government narrowly defeated the move, which would have required the government to reconsider any trade deal with a country found by the high court to be committing genocide, as the amendment was defeated by 319 votes to 308.

Trade minister Greg Hands described the proposal as a denial of parliamentary supremacy. He said that he was open to holding further discussions with his rebel Conservative MPs who backed the amendment, but offered no specific concession.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary also said during an interview on The Andrew Marr Show earlier this year that the UK “shouldn’t be engaged in free trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights well below the level of genocide”.

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