Athletes from around the world packed up their gear, and dreams of Gold, to head out to the historic Olympic games. Meanwhile, just miles from the flickering Olympic torch, religious minorities were being corralled into concentration camps while the host country was capitalizing on the games to push their propaganda of a modern, strong nation.
The year was 1936 and the games were in Berlin, but it could be 2022 in Beijing.
The Olympics in 1936 came as Hitler tried to convince the world that Germany was peaceful and tolerant, all the while camouflaging the growing Nazi tyranny and hiding the new shuffle of gypsies and Jewish people into work camps. As historians study the games, the 94 nations that sent athletes that year legitimized the Nazis and missed the opportunity to reveal the beginnings of atrocities that would later stun the world.
Next week in China that history may be repeated. The 2022 Beijing Olympics gets underway on February 4, 2022. With the world watching the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they’re offering a sanitized view of communist China with cartoon mascots and flashy technology. But, just as in 1936, mere miles away up to two million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being corralled and sequestered in labor camps in China’s Xinjiang province where human rights groups say the CCP violates “nearly each and every act” of the U.N. Genocide Convention.
If even a portion of the reports are true, there are clearly human rights violations in China of an historic scale. Evidence to support allegations of torture, forced sterilization, and other abuses have regularly leaked from China. Prisoners there are required to wear “suicide-proof” uniforms.
Last month the Biden administration declared a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics to spotlight China’s human rights abuses. It means that U.S. officials won’t be there, but U.S. athletes can compete. Since February of 2021, more than 180 human rights groups globally have called to cancel the 2022 Beijing Olympic games altogether. With the Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott announcement coming so late, just nine other nations have joined so far, it’s dashed hopes of an alliance of nations. French President Emmanuel Macron called Biden’s boycott “insignificant.”
“How other countries proceed is up to those countries,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in a recent Facebook live event.
News of the diplomatic boycott has been censured in China, so the CCP is holding up the Olympic games as a sign that all is right in their world.
“Their political agenda wins no support and is doomed to fail,”said Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., in a statement earlier this month.
Where is the American leadership and outrage? Even more importantly, where is evidence of the painful lesson that history taught us at the end of World War II? If China is allowed to go unanswered, parading the massive investment of the International Olympic Committee in the 2022 games before the world, while simultaneously there are reports of Uyghur detainees “systematically tortured, subjected to sexual violence, including rape, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, deprived of their basic human needs,” then we did not learn from the Holocaust.
If the chance to move the games has passed, rather than sending no one from the U.S. government, the Biden administration could have sent a contingent of human rights officials to make a clear statement that democracy, religious freedom, and human rights are pillars of American values and the civilized world. Instead, those seats will be filled with whomever China wants to be there. It is a missed opportunity.
There are bills sitting before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill that call to move the Olympics, or even strip the IOC of its 501c(4) tax exempt status. That bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla, and Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who refer to the games as the 2022 Genocide Olympics.
“The IOC is complicit in promoting the (CCP) regime’s agenda to distract the world from their atrocities with the Olympic Fanfare,” said Waltz. “Adding insult to injury to the victims of the Uyghur genocide, the IOC is clothing their officials for the games with uniforms sourced from forced-labor concentration camps in Xinjiang, flaunting their indifference to the cries of the oppressed.”
This week, as American athletes travel halfway across the world, the excitement of representing their nation is palpable, but so is the tension. Team USA has been advised to leave their personal electronics at home, to rent computers and bring “burner phones.” Athletes have been told to assume that the Chinese government is tracking all their personal communications, and their belongings can be searched at any time without their consent.
The app that China is requiring all athletes and attendees of the Beijing Olympics to download, for what their government calls “remote health monitoring,” reportedly contains programming to collect user files and audio, according to an analysis by a Canadian technology lab.
The fight for personal liberty is here. It is at our front door and on our televisions. As we watch our American Olympians realize their dreams, we also must recognize those who are suffering for their faith, just miles away from that stadium. We’ve seen the atrocities of World War II and wonder how the world could have missed the signs. Those signs are here again, this time in the People’s Republic of China. Let’s not turn our backs.
For more on the 1936 Olympics, check out The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, By Daniel James Brown.
This column first appeared in the Feb. / March print edition of Carolina Journal.