House passes bills to pressure China amid Olympic boycott

The House on Wednesday passed measures to exert diplomatic pressure on the Chinese government and International Olympic Committee (IOC) for alleged failures to uphold human rights as the U.S. urges allies to join its official boycott of the 2022 games in Beijing.

Passage of three separate bills addressing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims and tennis player Peng Shuai come after the Biden administration announced earlier this week that it will not send any government officials to the Winter Olympic Games in February.

Since then, the governments of Australia, Britain, Lithuania and Canada have also said they’ll join the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott. Athletes from all of those nations can still compete in the Olympic Games, however.

“If we do not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial or economic ties, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere in the world,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Lawmakers first passed a bill, 428-1, that would prohibit imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where the government is accused of holding Uyghur Muslims in forced labor camps, as well as sanction officials involved in human rights abuses.

Another resolution, adopted 427-1, formally condemns “the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against” Uyghur Muslims and other religious minorities by the Chinese government and urges the president to call upon the United Nations to investigate the allegations.

And a third measure, adopted 428-0, puts the House on record with the position that the International Olympic Committee is “legitimizing” the Chinese government’s claims about the safety of Peng, a Chinese tennis player who disappeared from public view after alleging that she was sexually assaulted by a top Communist Party official.

Peng disappeared from public view for more than two weeks in November after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice premier, of coercing her into sex. Her social media post on Nov. 2, where she made the allegation, has since been deleted.

The IOC said last month that its president, Thomas Bach, held a video call with Peng along with a Chinese sports official. The committee said that Peng appeared to be “relaxed” and “doing fine,” but the organization has been criticized for not providing video footage or transcripts of the conversations to prove that she is safe.

A spokesman for the IOC acknowledged Tuesday that “we can’t give assurances and we don’t know the full facts” about the case, according to The Associated Press

But the spokesman said that there is a plan for Peng and the committee’s president to meet for dinner in Beijing in January, maintaining there is “a full road map to at least attempt to keep in touch and to see where she is.”

The resolution adopted by the House on Wednesday states that the committee’s role raises questions about its “ability and willingness to protect the rights of athletes participating in the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic games in Beijing.” 

It goes on to add that the Chinese government “would help reduce concerns about athlete safety at the Beijing Olympics by assuring Peng’s freedom and safety and investigating her allegations in a fair and transparent manner.”

“There will be athletes [from] all over the world in attendance. So this body owes it not just to Peng, but to all the athletes participating in the Olympic Games to demonstrate that we do not take their safety and freedom for granted,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). 

The U.S. efforts to exert pressure on China over its alleged human rights abuses isn’t limited to its treatment of Uyghur Muslims or the Peng case.  

Earlier this year, the House passed a bipartisan resolution to formally condemn the Chinese government and the Hong Kong regional government for actions that “violate the rights and freedoms” of its citizens and called for the release of pro-democracy activists arrested under a new national security law that imposed harsh punishments on protesters. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week pushed back against a Washington Post report that deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had urged lawmakers to slow down on the bill prohibiting imports from Xinjiang because the administration preferred a more targeted approach to determining which goods were the products of forced labor. Psaki said that “we are absolutely not lobbying in any way against the passage of this bill.”

The Chinese government has threatened to retaliate against the Biden administration over its diplomatic boycott of the Olympics. 

“The wrong move of the U.S. has undermined the foundation and atmosphere for China-U.S. sports exchanges and Olympic cooperation. It has shot itself in the foot. The U.S. should understand the grave consequences of its move,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a Tuesday news conference, according to CNN.

Tags Gregory Meeks Jen Psaki Nancy Pelosi

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