China blasts US in row over boycott of Winter Olympics

Beijing says Washington is politicising sports after US politicians urge action over Xinjiang

Spectators watching an ice hockey competition last week, a test event ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Republican politicians in the US have led calls for a boycott of the Games, in part over what rights monitors say is the mass incarcerati
Spectators watching an ice hockey competition last week, a test event ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Republican politicians in the US have led calls for a boycott of the Games, in part over what rights monitors say is the mass incarceration of more than a million Uighurs in Xinjiang.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China yesterday accused the US of politicising sports, after Washington said it would discuss calls to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics with its allies following growing pressure to shun the Games on human rights grounds.

Republican politicians in the US have led calls for a boycott of the Olympics, in part over what rights monitors say is the mass incarceration and indoctrination of more than a million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim people in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

China has rejected the claims and said yesterday that allegations of genocide are "the lie of the century from top to bottom".

"As for the idea of a... joint boycott of the Beijing Olympics, I want to stress that politicising sports goes against the spirit of the Olympic Charter, and damages the rights and interests of each country's athletes and the global Olympic cause," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

He said it would "not be accepted by the international community".

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked if the United States would consider a joint boycott with allies, said it was "something that we certainly wish to discuss". But he later stressed that the US does not "have any announcement regarding the Beijing Olympics", writing on Twitter that "we will continue to consult closely with allies and partners to define our common concerns and establish our shared approach".

Mr Price said that "when it comes to our concerns with the government in Beijing, including Beijing's egregious human rights violations - its conduct of genocide in the case of Xinjiang", US action is meaningful but an effort that "brings along our allies and partners will have all the more influence with Beijing".

President Joe Biden's administration has repeatedly kept the door open to boycotting the Olympics without announcing any firm direction. A potential boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics has increasingly become embroiled in US domestic politics, with Republicans seeking to paint Mr Biden as hypocritical and soft on China.

Following Mr Price's comments, Japan yesterday said it is not in talks with the US on a possible boycott of the Beijing Games.

China rejects allegations of abuses in Xinjiang and describes the camps it has set up there as vocational training centres for Uighur Muslims that help combat religious extremism.

Meanwhile, two Uighur former government officials in Xinjiang have been handed death sentences for carrying out "separatist activities", a court said.

Shirzat Bawudun, a former head of the Xinjiang Department of Justice, has been sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on the charge of "splitting the country", said a statement on the Xinjiang government website on Tuesday.

Bawudun had conspired with a terrorist group, taken bribes and carried out separatist activities, vice-president of the Xinjiang Higher People's Court Wang Langtao said at a press conference.

State news agency Xinhua said Bawudun was found guilty of colluding with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement - listed as a "terrorist" group by the United Nations - after meeting a key member of the group in 2003.

Washington removed the group from its list of terror groups last November, saying there was "no credible evidence that (it) continues to exist".

Bawudun also illegally provided "information to foreign forces" as well as carried out "illegal religious activities at his daughter's wedding", Xinhua said.

The court statement also said that Sattar Sawut - a former director of the Xinjiang education department - was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve after being found guilty of crimes of separatism and taking bribes.

Sawut was found guilty of incorporating ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism and religious extremism content into textbooks in the Uighur language, officials said.

The court said the textbooks had influenced several people to participate in attacks in the capital Urumqi, including riots that led to at least 200 deaths in 2009.

In China, a death sentence with a reprieve is usually commuted to a life sentence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'China blasts US in row over boycott of Winter Olympics'. Subscribe