I am sure that by now many of you are aware of the United States’ boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. If not, let me provide you with a quick breakdown. Recently, China has been documented committing human rights violations against the Uyghur people. Some have even labeled what’s occurring as genocide; admittedly, this is a heavy word. There has been evidence of China detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs in “re-education camps” with hundreds of thousands also being sentenced to prison terms. There is also evidence of the Uyghurs being used as sources of forced labor, women being forcibly sterilized and even allegations of torture as well as sexual abuse. Such unjust treatment against an entire ethnic group has forced many countries to take a stand.
With China hosting the Winter Olympics, one would not be hard pressed to say the rest of the world was put in an awkward spot. On one hand, it wouldn’t be fair to punish athletes who have been training their whole lives for a competition that is so important it can be considered the culminating event of their careers. On the other hand, by not taking any action, it gives the impression that countries think China’s actions are not outside of the international norm, or at least not bad enough to intervene. The middle ground many countries have found has been to declare a diplomatic boycott of the event. In countries including the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, government officials are not allowed to attend the Olympics, but athletes are still allowed to participate. At the surface, this initially seems to be a pretty good solution as it did occasion China to respond that such actions “seriously violated the principle of the political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and that the U.S. will pay a price for it.” But on second glance, I do find myself wondering: Is it enough?
Though the U.S. has expressed its disapproval of China’s actions through its boycott, U.S. money is still largely sustaining the Olympics. Through the American brands that are sponsoring the event like Coca-Cola, Airbnb, Intel and more, the U.S. has demonstrated that though human rights abuses do matter, they don’t matter enough to get in the way of business. On behalf of the government, Ned Price, U.S. State Department Spokesman, has said that “it is up to them (the companies in question) to make their own decisions about their practices in relation to what we have very clearly said is ongoing in Xinjiang.” Price went on to emphasize that “it is not, in this country, unlike other countries, the role of the government to dictate the practices that the private sector should adopt.” So essentially, though the government may be disappointed in its companies, the fact of the matter is that they are unwilling to exert any actual pressure on companies to change their attitudes concerning business in China.
This doesn’t feel sufficient. The U.S.’s rationale is that it is not the government’s place to get involved in the situation. However, government regulation is a powerful tool, and one reason that has justified government involvement in the past has been to promote ethical behaviors. Whether it be improving a company’s carbon footprint or breaking up a monopoly, it is not unheard of for a government to get involved in its country’s economy. It is unheard of for this to happen without dedicated government action, e.g. legislation. So now, when there are human rights at stake, why is the line being drawn? Time and time again we have seen this story play out. The story where the economy’s growth is prioritized over all else, and social injustices are simply swept under the rug; and in such stories, there is only one winner.
Though I do appreciate the United States proclaiming a diplomatic boycott and not caving to the economic clout that China holds, there is more that can be done. Forget the example of the Olympics for a moment, there should be nothing stopping the U.S. from taking serious action against China on the global stage. The American people have risen to the challenge of a despotic one party regime before, and I believe that we can again. As a country that has made its name off of spreading democracy and freedom, helping out the Uyghur people is long overdue.
Palak Srivastava is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org