Olympic movement must not buckle to China’s critics

Oct 29, 2021
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(Image: Unsplash)

There have certainly been human rights abuses by Chinese authorities. But calls for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games are misjudged.

This month activists tried to disrupt the Olympic Torch’s flame lighting ceremony in Olympia in southern Greece. The next day, October 19, they followed up with a press conference in Athens calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics due to be held in February in Beijing. Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the strongly anti-China World Uyghur Congress, said there were “no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide” while the would-be disrupters in Olympia called them “Genocide Games”.

In my opinion this accusation that China is committing genocide against the Uighurs is false and the labelling of the Beijing Games as “Genocide Games” outrageous and misplaced. I support the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ignore it and hope that governments and athletes will do the same.

On September 26, China’s State Council Information Office issued a detailed document entitled “Xinjiang Population Dynamics and Data”. It was the first such document devoted specifically to that subject. Not surprisingly, it rejected all the material put forward by supporters of the “genocide” theory and charged the United States with “hideous double standards, hypocrisy, and hegemonic mindset”.

This document clearly has the ring of propaganda. However, although words such as “hideous” are perhaps unnecessary, I agree with the Information Office that the US State Department officials are guilty of double standards and hypocrisy. As for hegemonic mindset, they have been quite open that their main foreign policy agenda is to do everything they can to stop China from catching up to them economically or in any other way. If that doesn’t indicate a “hegemonic mindset”, I don’t know what does.

What is disappointing is that there has been hardly any attention given to this document in the Western media. By contrast, equally propagandistic and biased documents put out in support of the US attempts to discredit China, get wide coverage and credence. Even the BBC has issued gloating and outrageously unfair reports about how frightful the Chinese are in Xinjiang. We put heavy weight on media that condemn China as genocidal, but ignore China’s point of view altogether. That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

The September 26 document also contains a great deal of concrete information that should be taken seriously and most of it given credence.

When one talks about genocide, it seems to me imperative (a) to define that term; and (b) to look at population figures.

As for definition, in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, the essence of genocide is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (Article II). Numerous official Chinese documents, including that on Xinjiang population of the September 26, make it clear that the Chinese government has no intent whatever to destroy any group in any of the categories mentioned.

It is true there has been a nationalist effort in the last few years to promote the unified “Chinese nation” (Zhonghua minzu). But documents indicating multicultural attitudes towards the 55 state-recognised ethnic minorities are still numerous and show no sign whatever of any genocidal intent. The Chinese stated aims are (i) to undertake necessary deradicalisation of the Muslim population to overcome terrorist tendencies very clear in the history of the last couple of decades; and (ii) to raise the level of education among the people in order to combat poverty.

There have been seven censuses under the People’s Republic, the sixth and seventh held in 2010 and 2020 respectively. The growth rate of the Xinjiang population in the 2020 census (25.85 million), as compared with that of 2010 (21.82 million), was 1.85 per cent, much higher than the national growth rate (0.59 per cent). The Uighur population grew from 10 million in 2010 to 11.62 million in 2020, and its proportion of the total Xinjiang population fell slightly from 45.8 per cent to 45 per cent. The Han Chinese proportion rose from 40.5 per cent in 2010 to 42.2 per cent in 2020, due in large part to immigration.

The overall picture of the September 26 document on Xinjiang’s population is of a modernising society, with rising life expectancy (74.7 years in 2019, up 2.35 years from 2010), rising literacy, better health, growing urbanisation and falling infant and maternal mortality. It is true that modernity has its problems, but life is probably much improved for the great majority of people, including the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

Although the West has generally been so condemnatory of Chinese governance of Xinjiang, others have been more accepting of China’s claims to be suppressing not Islam or Muslim ethnic groups but Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. There have been several votes and comments from international bodies. The most striking points about these is that Muslim-majority countries have on the whole sided with China against the West. The common narrative in the West is that it is fear of China’s economic dominance that prevents the Muslim-majority countries from condemning China and supporting their co-religionists. That may be part of an explanation. But journalist Tom Fowdy points out that most of these same states that side with China (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Egypt) are “firmly affixed to the United States in their security, political and economic orientation”. He writes in The Cradle (September 7) that the reasons come down to “US double standards”.

While the US and its allies preach a constant mantra of “human rights” in their effort to portray China as the enemy of the Islamic faith, Muslim countries are the first to recognise that this very same rhetoric has been used to pursue the wholesale destruction of their own states.

That makes sense to me. If you consider the availability of guns in the U.S., and how its leaders seem willing to send troops to control other countries, including Muslim-majority ones, would China’s method of deradicalisation seem worse?

I don’t claim everything we read on Xinjiang is false. My own impression is that the Chinese government overreacted in dealing with terrorism in Xinjiang. There certainly have been human rights abuses. But genocide? That is completely ridiculous! It is a theory developed by a partisan State Department on the basis of biased scholarship and journalism and stoked by the US-led “stop China” campaign.

The latest move by “activists” to stir up the international community against China in order to destroy the positive impact of the Winter Olympics in Beijing is misplaced and misjudged. I suggest it will turn out to be a pathetic and futile attempt to damage the reputation of a rising China.

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