WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday (May 18) called for a US diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, criticising China for human rights abuses and saying that global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority.
US lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about an Olympic boycott or venue change, and have lashed out at American corporations, arguing their silence about what the State Department has deemed a genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in China was abetting the Chinese government.
Ms Pelosi, a Democrat, told a bipartisan congressional hearing on the issue that heads of state around the world should shun the games, scheduled for February.
"Here's what I propose - and join those who are proposing - is a diplomatic boycott," Ms Pelosi said, in which "lead countries of the world withhold their attendance at the Olympics".
"Let's not honour the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China," Ms Pelosi said.
"For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing - while you're sitting there in your seat - really begs the question, what moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world?" she said.
An independent United Nations panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims had been held in camps in China's Xinjiang region. Beijing describes them as vocational training centres to stamp out extremism, and strongly rejects accusations of abuse and genocide.
Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern said the games should be relocated.
"If we can postpone an Olympics by a year for a pandemic, we can surely postpone the Olympics for a year for a genocide," Mr McGovern said, referring to the decision by Japan and the International Olympic Committee to delay the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo due to Covid-19.
"This would give the IOC time to relocate to a country whose government is not committing atrocities," Mr McGovern said.
Demands for some form of boycott of the Beijing Games are growing.
Last month, Republican Senator Mitt Romney introduced an amendment to broader legislation to counter China that would implement a US diplomatic boycott.
And a coalition of human rights activists on Tuesday called for athletes to boycott the Games and put pressure on the IOC.
US President Joe Biden's administration has said it hopes to develop a joint approach with allies to participation in Beijing's Olympics, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly said that the issue has not yet been broached in discussions.
Asked about Ms Pelosi's comments, a senior administration official told Reuters that the administration's position on the 2022 Olympics had not changed.
Mr Biden, also a Democrat, has said China is America's strategic competitor, and has vowed to not let the country surpass the United States as a world leader on his watch.
Proponents of Americans competing in Beijing's Olympics say it would be unfair to punish athletes, and that the Games would provide a platform for the United States, which has one of the highest Winter Olympic medal counts, to show its vitality on the global stage.
Ms Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive officer of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a written statement to the hearing that the committee was concerned about the "oppression of the Uighur population," but that barring US athletes from the Games was "certainly not the answer".
"Past Olympic boycotts have failed to achieve political ends - and they should give all of us pause in considering another boycott," she said.