Beijing Winter Olympics began on 4th February, not long after the news of the disappearance of the tennis player Peng Shuai made headlines. While this is not the first time China has violated human rights, this is the first time it has garnered so much attention. Many countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Estonia, announced the diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics because of the “human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”.
India became the latest country to announce the diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics. However, its decision has little to do with the human rights violation by China. This move came after China appointed a PLA soldier as a torchbearer who fought against India in Galwan in 2020. India lost 20 soldiers in the violent clashes in Galwan Valley in 2020.
What is a Diplomatic Boycott?
While the Winter Olympics are not as well known as the Summer Olympics, it’s still a significant event. Every country sends a high-ranking official to the event. A diplomatic boycott means the countries are not sending any official government delegation to Beijing. This time, many countries have decided not to do so. However, the athletes are still participating in the games.
Circumstances That Led to This Situation
China has been under scrutiny for some time because of reports of its inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Various human rights groups have claimed that over 1 million Uyghurs have been detained and are being used as forced labour. They have also claimed that women are being forcibly sterilized and sexually abused. China has consistently denied such reports. Many nations, including the US, New Zealand, and the UK, have condemned its actions as a crime against humanity.
The situation escalated when the news of the disappearance of the tennis player Peng Shuai came on November 2021. Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice-premier under Xi Jinping, of sexually assaulting her. All of her posts on Chinese social media vanished minutes afterward. She, too, disappeared from the public eye for several days. Following concerns made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Women’s Tennis Association, and other athletes, various videos and photographs of Peng Shuai showed her fine and well surfaced. A video of her saying that she has accused nobody of sexual assault also surfaced. The authenticity of these videos and photos is questionable.
In December, the US and several other countries announced the diplomatic boycott mission of the Winter Olympics. Even with people asking to stop the Winter Olympics in China, IOC refused to take action. Meanwhile, the Women’s Tennis Association suspended all its tournaments in China and Hong Kong on 3rd December.
China has responded most aggressively against the US for its diplomatic boycott. China’s state-run newspaper, Global Times, called Australia’s decision to boycott the games “immature, arrogant, and stupid.” Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the US had “clearly violated the Olympic spirit” and “will pay the price for its erroneous actions.”
“The United States, Britain, and Australia have used the Olympics platform for political manipulation. They will have to pay the price for their mistaken acts.” said a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry at a press conference.
Are Diplomatic Boycotts Effective?
The Winter Olympics began on 4th February, and, so far, the diplomatic boycott has not affected the games.
This is not the first time Olympics have been boycotted. The most prominent boycott was done in 1980. In reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, over 60 countries boycotted the Moscow Summer Games. The boycott significantly influenced the game since athletes from many countries did not participate.
However, this diplomatic boycott has not affected the popularity of the games. Some have argued that a complete boycott would have done more to raise awareness and put pressure on the Chinese government. In contrast, others have said that the 1980 boycott did not have any major political impact but affected the athletes more.
It’s hard to determine if a complete boycott is fair. On the one hand, it might be more effective than a diplomatic boycott, while on the other, it will be unfair for athletes who have worked hard for this opportunity.