When it comes to the Olympics, don’t buy what China is selling
As the Winter Olympics kick off in Beijing, China, the eyes of the world will be upon the carefully choreographed and eye-catching pageantry. As we watch, all of us would be well-served to remember that approximately 1,700 miles away — or just a 4-hour flight — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing mass genocide, coercive population control efforts, and the systemic torture of millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
It was a mistake for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to refuse to re-bid the 2022 Winter Olympics, though unsurprising given the IOC’s track record and “affinity for authoritarian regimes,” as veteran sportscaster Bob Costas recently put it. Instead of moving the games to a nation that doesn’t have a dismal record of human rights abuses, the IOC has left our athletes vulnerable to Chinese espionage and allowed them to be used as pawns in the CCP’s propaganda game.
As bipartisan members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, we are keenly aware of the threat – militarily, economically, and otherwise – that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poses to the United States and freedom-loving people around the world. The CCP aims to upend the rules-based world order in their pursuit of global economic dominance and regional hegemony, which, if accomplished, would bring with it unprecedented levels of censorship, data mining, economic coercion, and instability.
In 2008, when China hosted the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Human Rights Watch noted that “[t]he run-up to the Beijing Olympics [was] marred by a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom.” Now, these well-documented human rights violations not only continue, but they are arguably more dire. Of the coming 2022 Winter Olympics, Human Rights Watch’s Minky Worden writes that since being awarded the 2022 Olympics, “…President Xi Jinping’s government has arrested journalists, women’s rights activists and lawyers; dismantled freedoms in Hong Kong; and committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, torture, sexual abuse and cultural persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.”
During President Xi’s tenure, the CCP has grown more overt with their geopolitical ambitions — and more aggressive in pursuit of them. Beginning in 2013, the PRC built artificial islands in the South China Sea to lay claim over international territory through which trillions of dollars’ worth of global commerce moves. In 2020, the CCP imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that is used to silence political dissent and open discourse — particularly for those expressing pro-democracy views. Later that year, in response to Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus, the PRC retaliated by levying sanctions on Australian trade.
President Xi’s ambitions toward Taiwan, a democracy and key U.S. partner, are no secret either. Just this past week, China’s ambassador to the United States warned that “[if] the Taiwanese authorities … keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States … in a military conflict.”
There is growing evidence that our athletes will be targeted by Chinese espionage while in Beijing, and China’s cyber capabilities are a threat to every American. It has been reported that the phone application, “MY2022,” which athletes and team officials are required to download, could expose user calls and data, including personal medical information, to CCP theft. The application, which also allows athletes to report “politically sensitive content,” is run by a Chinese state-owned company. Athletes and journalists from several nations, including the United States, have been encouraged to make use of “burner phones” while in Beijing.
The PRC will use anyone and every opportunity to further its authoritarian ambitions, and the IOC played right into its hands when it granted President Xi and the CCP the global platform that comes with the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Our athletes deserve better.
Just this week, The New York Times reported that “Chinese authorities have detained activists in their homes and sent others to jail” as Beijing prepares to kick off the Winter Olympics. So, as the PRC hosts these games, remember that what you see televised is well-choreographed propaganda. Behind the theatrics is an authoritarian state focused on remaking the world in its image — by any means necessary.
U.S. Reps. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.