The Winter Olympics is a major propaganda coup for the Communist Party. British officials should not be complicit in it.
In July 2015, the International Olympic Committee handed China a near-priceless propaganda coup: the opportunity to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Now, as the games draw closer, it is up to those of us in the West concerned about China's disrespect for human rights, international aggression and rampant despotism to make clear that we will not stand for it.
On Thursday in the House of Commons, MPs joined a growing chorus of activists by calling on the Government to boycott the event. Thus far, Ministers have not listened, claiming that it is not their place to get involved in sport. The reality is that this is about far more than ski jumps and ice skating.
At the heart of this demand is the terrible and growing evidence of systematic, government-organised human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region. Evidence gleaned from Chinese official documents, backed up by harrowing human testimony from the Uyghur tribunal in London, have served to show that the Chinese government is engaged in what is likely to be genocide.
There is now no question about the scale of the abuse going on and its effects. Women have been forcibly sterilised, shown by the collapsing birth rate amongst Uyghur families, more than one million men are now in forced labour camps and the children are forced into re-education camps which seek to eradicate any trace of the Uyghur culture and language.
The tragedy is that we are witnessing history repeating itself. At the time of 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, concerns were raised about the hideous treatment of the people of Tibet. Persecuted for decades by the Chinese Communist Party, more than a quarter of a million Tibetans are still in forced labour camps. These concerns were rejected because, we were told, the games would usher in a better human rights record.
The ongoing abuse of Tibet, the descent into genocide in Xinjiang, the smashing of Christian churches, the trashing of the Sino-British agreement in Hong Kong and the dreadful treatment of the Falun Gong, which includes sickening evidence of organ harvesting, shows just how little the CCP have taken those values to heart.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the IOC claims to believe in "sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind ... promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity" and says that the rights and freedoms set out in its charter "shall be secured without discrimination of any kind". Yet here we are again, with the same despotic regime as hosts and calls for a diplomatic boycott.
The Government should make it clear that they will not support the games, no minister or official will attend and no member of the Royal family will be put in the invidious position of having to lend credence to the intolerant and brutal regime that is the CCP. It would remain up to bodies such as the British Olympic Committee to decide whether to go as it would for individual athletes.
This is important because the CCP has shown in the past that it is sensitive to such condemnation, you only have to look at how it responds. I say this as one of these who has been sanctioned by China for having the temerity to criticise the regime. Ever since I and a number of fellow parliamentarians from around the world set up the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) – now with more than 200 members in more than 20 countries – we have been under attack through the internet.
Yet still the UK hesitates. Although they excuse the inaction saying they don’t intervene in sport, the real reason is that the Government is desperate to do some form of trade deal with China. How else could one explain the foot dragging on imposing import and export controls on Chinese supply chains where there is evidence of slave labour? Or the failure to block the sale of the UK’s biggest semiconductors manufacturer to Chinese-owned Nexperia – a sale which poses significant strategic and security risks?
As President Xi threatens to smash our collective heads against a wall of steel, it’s time the West learned to believe what China says it will do, not what we wish it would do. Instead of resurrecting Project Kowtow, the UK should be taking a lead and making a powerful statement about the appalling behaviour of the Chinese government at home and abroad. We have to recognise how in 2008 China was allowed to score a major soft power propaganda victory. Now, more than ever, mired in evidence of its brutal human rights record, China craves just such another soft power victory, one we must deny them.