The Olympic motto of ‘Faster, higher, stronger” is as famous as it is inspiring. The recent update from Pierre de Coubitin’s original iteration now includes “together”.
It is in this renewed spirit that the UK must now stand together with the USA and other countries who are staging a full diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
This week, the United States confirmed that no diplomatic or official representation would be sent to Beijing. New Zealand and Australia also confirmed that they will not be sending official diplomatic representatives to the games, joining a growing international coalition of concerned countries who are no longer willing to help a brutal Chinese regime to “sportwash” its image whilst it acts with such disdain for basic human rights.
This is a clear and direct message to China that the bullying and brutal treatment of Uighurs and Hongkongers is unacceptable.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson said there would “effectively” be a diplomatic boycott, but added that he “didn’t think sporting boycotts were sensible”. Not only does this leave open the possibility of members of the Royal Family attending the Olympics and officially representing the UK, but it also fails to send the clear message that a hard and fast diplomatic boycott would send.
Instead of providing clarity, the Prime Minister has muddied the waters.
The clear message from other allies is a reminder of their values of freedom, democracy and human rights.
If the UK also believes in these values – and the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration – then the UK government must immediately initiate a full official diplomatic boycott to prevent ministers and members of the Royal Family from legitimising China by representing the UK at the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
In Hong Kong, human rights and democracy are in tatters. Since the protests of 2019, the ruling Chinese government has executed a brutal political crackdown with multiple arrests of pro-democracy activists and the targeted harassment of many more. Last year, the draconian national security law was introduced, and the situation has only continued to deteriorate. Freedom and the rule of law have been abandoned in Hong Kong.
The national security law, imposed by Beijing, has led to sweeping repression of political expression with people arrested for possessing flags, stickers and banners with political slogans. Those arrested have been held without bail, refused access to their chosen legal counsel and assigned to special “national security” prosecutors or judges handpicked by the authorities.
A full official UK diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games is clearly the right thing to do and we should do so immediately.
It is a necessary action rather than a sufficient one. A full official diplomatic boycott will send a strong message, but to make a tangible difference for Hongkongers this can’t be the end of the road. There must be Magnitsky-style sanctions on those officials in Hong Kong and Beijing most responsible for the brutal human rights abuses.
There are multiple policy levers available for us to stand with Hong Kong and the Uighurs. Considering our historic responsibility to Hong Kong, the UK should be leading the international response instead of following our cousins across the Atlantic with a mixed signal.
It’s time to say clearly to Hongkongers: we are together with you and not with the brutal Chinese regime.