A long-prepared campaign to force the US to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing went aground earlier this month when the US House Armed Services Committee rejected a plan to punish US corporate sponsors.
All but one of the Democratic members of the committee rejected the proposal, which failed by 22 to 36 votes.
The campaign was initiated by neo-conservative think-tankers in late 2019 as part of a broader campaign to maneuver the US into a more confrontational stance towards China.
All of the committee’s Republicans voted for the resolution, which would have prevented US officials from traveling to the Beijing Games on military aircraft.
“I do think this amendment is a microcosm of what makes this competition so difficult,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis).
“There is no painless way to selectively economically decouple from China, and yet that is what we must do to be successful going forward.
“It would be unconscionable to allow the 2022 Olympics to continue business as usual,” he added.
“There is a bipartisan, multinational effort to find an international solution that supports the CCP’s millions of victims and the expressions of athletes, including through moving the Games.”
Gallagher also slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she should “stop dragging her feet and allow these efforts to come to the floor so we can ensure the CCP does not have a platform to whitewash its crimes against humanity.”
Holding up a poster with corporate logos sponsoring the “Genocide Olympics,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla), a former Army officer who introduced the two amendments said: “We’ve all heard many of these corporations … talk about their moral responsibility and speak out on social and political issues in the past year … Where is their moral responsibility now when addressing the Chinese Community Party’s gross violation of human rights?”
The failed amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill would have banned American companies who sponsored the Beijing Games from selling their products on US military bases.
Speaker Pelosi has proposed a so-called “diplomatic boycott,” which would allow US athletes to compete without the presence of US officials, but the prospects for this half-measure are doubtful. Pelosi is busy trying to rescue the Biden administration’s domestic spending program from total collapse.
Pelosi’s office in Washington confirmed this week to Asia Times that they continue to support a “diplomatic boycott.”
Pelosi finds herself in an odd alliance with Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the losing Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential elections and an embittered enemy of former president Donald Trump.
Romney has emerged as the Senate’s most visible China hawk, campaigning for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics as well a free trade deal with Taiwan and other measures to promote the independence of the island that Beijing considers a rebel province.
In a March 15 New York Times op-ed, Romney said Washington should implement “an economic and diplomatic boycott” of the quadrennial winter sports jamboree.
Such a move, he said, would “repudiate Chinese policy without unfairly punishing our athletes.” He stopped short of calling for an athlete boycott, saying they should not keep America’s skiers, curlers and bobsledders at home.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has stood by the “Olympic Truce” — the ancient concept that the Games should transcend politics.
In a statement emailed to Asia Times by the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, it stated that “the Olympic Games are the only event that brings the entire world together in peaceful competition.
“In our fragile world, the power of sport to bring the whole world together, despite all the existing differences, gives us all hope for a better future,” the IOC said.
The statement stressed that the Games are governed by the IOC, not by governments or politicians. In an earlier statement, IOC President Thomas Bach declared that the organization is not a “super world government,” nor will it act like one.
“A boycott of the Olympic Games has never achieved anything,” he added.
The role of the Olympic Games and the IOC was also recently acknowledged in a UN resolution, which was adopted by consensus, the statement said.
The UN resolution called upon the “future hosts of such Games and other member states to include sport, as appropriate, in conflict prevention activities and to ensure the effective implementation of the Olympic Truce during the Games.”
The IOC statement to Asia Times emphasized that the UN resolution affirmed “the invaluable contribution of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in establishing sport as a unique means for the promotion of peace and development, in particular through the ideal of the Olympic Truce, acknowledging the opportunities provided by past Olympic and Paralympic Games, including those held in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea, in 2018, as well as the Youth Olympic Games held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020.”
US lawmakers previously urged the companies to revoke their sponsorship of the Games over these concerns, but executives have so far refused.
In Congressional testimony last July, executives from Coca-Cola, Visa, Airbnb, Intel and Procter & Gamble rejected the boycott proposal. Olympic advertisers have also refused to pull their ad dollars from the Games, nor do they think moving the Games at this late stage is a smart idea.
And the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, in a strongly worded letter, has urged Congress not to boycott the 2022 Games.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the US committee, argued in the letter that “an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues.”
She argued that Olympic boycotts “do not have an encouraging history,” citing the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow, when the US government pushed for an athlete boycott over the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan.
“As a result, 461 American athletes — the balance of them teenagers and college students representing almost every US state — qualified to compete in Moscow only to have the opportunity taken from them,” the CEO wrote.
“A new generation of Winter Olympians and Paralympians are hard at work preparing to represent America in Beijing in 2022. Please give them that chance.
“They do not deserve to train for the Games under a cloud of uncertainty about American participation in the Games. Instead, we ought to show them our support and our appreciation — at a time of great difficulty, they have trained hard and sacrificed much.”
The US State Department has been silent on the issue since last April, when it denied reports that it was considering a joint boycott of the Games along with US allies. The State Department has not categorically ruled out the possibility of a so-called diplomatic boycott.
“Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” a State Department official said in a statement emailed April 4.
The strongest support for the boycott, paradoxically, comes from the narrowest segment of the American political spectrum — the Romney wing of the Republican Party.
Although Romney is despised by the Trump wing for voting to convict Trump in his 2021 impeachment hearings, most of the Trump Republicans have followed Romney’s lead — even though the former president has rejected the idea of an Olympics boycott.
It would be “unfair to the athletes” to boycott the Games, and countries around the world would see it as “sour grapes,” Trump told Real Clear Investigations in an interview. “I see it both ways,” Trump said, “but I would not do that … You go. You compete. You win.”
The Olympic boycott campaign started at the American Enterprise Institute, the leading neoconservative think tank in Washington.
In a December 2, 2019 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, AEI fellow Michael Mazza demanded a boycott of the just-announced Beijing Olympics in retaliation for what he called human rights abuses against China’s Uighur minority — even if the US had to go it alone.
“If the US fails to find international partners,” Mazza wrote, “Washington should be prepared for a solitary boycott. To participate in the Beijing 2022 Games despite the atrocities being committed against the Uighurs would be to acquiesce to those abuses.
“By standing up for human rights principles, the US could inspire others to follow our lead while showing abusers that, when it comes to defending human rights, America is no paper tiger.”
The American Enterprise Institute is one of the few remaining pockets of support for the George W. Bush vision of propagating American democracy throughout the world.
After Romney’s 2012 loss to Barack Obama, the Republican Party rejected the neoconservative vision in favor of Trump’s “America First” approach. Trump Republicans in the House and Senate for the most part distanced themselves from the boycott campaign.
Preventing American athletes from competing in Beijing would be unpopular, and most Congressional Republicans are content to support Pelosi’s lukewarm diplomatic boycott.
China hawks in the Trump wing of the Republican Party joined the boycott campaign a year and a half after the American Enterprise Institute’s Mazza launched the idea in December 2019.
In April 2021, the Committee on the Present Danger (China), an organization founded by former Trump aide Steve Bannon and conservative activists Frank Gaffney and Brian Kennedy, joined the call for a boycott.
As noted, Trump himself rejected the notion of a boycott, which vitiates the campaign in his wing of the Republican Party. According to Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump himself showed no concern for China’s treatment of its Uighur minority.
The impetus for the Olympic boycott, rather, comes from neoconservatives who want to promote Taiwanese independence.
Michael Mazza’s American Enterprise Institute colleague and frequent co-author Dan Blumenthal, the author of a hawkish China book published in 2020, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on September 21 that the US should send troops to Taiwan to promote the island’s independence.
“Washington must undermine the CCP’s dangerous imperialist ideology, bolster Taiwan’s democratic resilience, and firmly embed the island in a still-nascent free-and-open Asian order,” Blumenthal wrote.
“The answer to Beijing’s regime-change strategy must be a US policy of preserving the democratic regime on Taiwan. A more realistic approach to Taiwan will require such moves as placing more US troops on the island to shore up Taiwan’s political will under pressure and work more closely with its military.”
Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill by 68 votes to 32 demanding that the Biden administration “call for an end to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing human rights abuses, including the Uighur genocide.”
The bill would prevent the Secretary of State from providing any federal funds to support or facilitate the attendance of any US government employee at the Games.
But none of that touches funding for the US Olympic Planning Committee, national governing bodies, athletes, employees, contractors and consular services.
The legislation, which is essentially symbolic in nature, will now go to the US House of Representatives, where it could face greater opposition.