Why don't Olympic divers wear protective goggles?
British politician Smith calls for boycott of the 2022 Beijing Games"Governments should say: we are not participating"
It was only a matter of a few minutes. On Monday, two Australian senators called in parliament to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in China. Their motion was put to a vote and the majority of the Senate - 31 senators - voted against it. However, eleven senators supported a boycott. And they're not the only ones.
There are politicians around the world who want a tougher policy towards China and who are also considering a boycott of the Games in Beijing. One of the loudest voices is Iain Duncan Smith, former chairman of the Conservative Party in Great Britain and now chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of politicians from Western democracies who advocate a new policy approach towards China. And Smith has called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games several times in the past few months.
Maximilian Rieger: Mr. Smith, why do you think the boycott is necessary?
Iain Duncan Smith: Well, I think the biggest problem facing the free world right now is the threat posed in many ways by a massively resurgent China. Not just for its neighbors, but in a wider context for the entire free world. The reason I say this is the background is because China itself has made it very clear that under President Xi it intends to become the most powerful economy and military in the world by 2049. Now, ironically, the arrival of COVID has accelerated this. Because the Chinese economy is now growing by at least five percent a year and is expected to grow by over seven to eight percent next year. While the western economies - Germany, Great Britain, France, America - are all in great trouble. Most of them have shrunk or will have shrunk instead of growing. And so this changes the nature of the relationship dramatically. And firstly, it is time to realize this. But second, it is also important to understand that it is the free world that has fueled this growth in Chinese power through its rush to buy goods from China that are often subsidized against WTO rules. At the same time it has been proven that many of these goods are produced with the help of slave labor. In the meantime, China is using this money to massively build itself and its capabilities.
British politician Iain Duncan Smith calls for a boycott of the Pekimg Winter Games. (imago images / i Images)
And as we saw recently, there are massive problems with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. There it became pretty clear that there could even have been genocide connected with slave labor. The Tibetans are being forced into camps. The Falun Gong have been suppressed as a religious group. Now we're even talking about organ harvesting. Christians are under pressure, the Hong Kong Accord annihilated, problems in the South China Sea, where China threatens its neighbors, and aggressive behavior on the borders with India.
So we have to stand up and acknowledge the problem. And now it is time for us to send a message to China. So I think that at the Winter Games in China we need to send a signal that we disapprove of his behavior and his ambitions.
Smith: Sport is inseparable from politics
Rieger: But many of the arguments that you have just made were economic and political arguments. Why should athletes pay the price for global politics?
Smith: Because I don't believe that in the end you can separate sport from politics. If you don't believe this, all you have to do is look around to see what happened to the Black Lives Matter movement, which most soccer teams do. You have also classified yourself there. To say that sport does not go hand in hand with politics is at least naive to me.
Rieger: But that is the position of the IOC.
Smith: Yes, but my argument is that this is what we do. We have national sports squads who represent our nations. So it cannot be said that these are only individuals. This is also about national fame, a sense of nationality, etc. So the point I want to make is very simple: I understand the frustration an individual athlete will experience when someone like me has him after four years of hard work asks not to participate in the Olympics. Although that is its peak. I understand that and I can empathize with that. First of all, my suggestion is that governments should boycott these Olympics. I would leave it up to individuals whether they want to boycott it when they look at what is going on around them in China. But I think most importantly, governments in the free world should at least say, 'We're not going to these games. And all teams and athletes who go do not go as national teams. '
Rieger: In Australia, I believe that this debate is currently furthest advanced. So your proposal would mean that individual Australian athletes could go to the Beijing Games, but the Australian Olympic Committee should not send a team as a whole.
Smith: Yes, something like that. I am open to suggestions. The key is that we are sending a very public signal that China's behavior is currently deprecated. And it's horrific. I mean, while we are thinking about the Olympics and sports, there are people in China who lose their lives because of their beliefs or because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or because China wants to incorporate the area in which you live. In Hong Kong you can be arrested if you just protest for democracy and you can be deported to China and spend your life behind the bars of a terrible prison.
(imago images / Xinhua) 500 days until the opening in Beijing
The Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to begin in Beijing in February 2022. Problems and open questions are not discussed in China.
My opinion is we are connected as humanity at the end of the day. We have a human rights obligation, whether we are athletes or whether we are politicians. And so my concern is that we should not lose sight of this because it is in a foreign country. History has a habit of repeating itself. What we have to understand is that our purpose in life has to be that we should always be protected against the worst elements of human nature so that they don't repeat themselves. And my concern is: China's aggressive, arrogant, undemocratic and certainly dictatorial behavior is not only damaging the lives of people in China, which is bad enough. It is also starting to harm the lives of people outside of China. And threats to Taiwan continue to emerge every day.
"China understands the weakness of the west"
Rieger: In 1980 Margaret Thatcher was in Moscow for a boycott of the Games. Even that did not convince the British Olympic team to boycott the Games. What makes you think it would be different this time?
Smith: Well I think the difference is that this is not a cold war. There are no longer the lines that existed with the Soviet Union and its allies on one side and NATO on the other. I think the difference this time around is that China understood the weakness of the West, the free world. And that is, in an unconditional attempt to have cheaper products to be supplied and manufactured so that they can be sold, the West has turned to China to invest and buy. And that changed the power and capabilities of China. And I think that's why we have to take care of it - without war, but certainly with very clear words. If China wants to play a full role on the international stage and trade, it has to obey and agree to the rules-based order and not choose which rules to adhere to. And human rights violations must also be denounced.
Rieger: But where do you draw the line? For example, the United States has used economic power to its advantage for decades *. And if we look at the past four years, human rights violations have also taken place in the United States, for example at the border where children have been caged. Where do you draw the line? Should Britain also boycott the Los Angeles Olympics in eight years?
Boycott as a signal from democratic governments
Smith: Well, let's think about it. I'm talking about countries with democratic laws, rules and elections. In the free world, people in these countries are able to change their minds and move and change governments. You can contradict their governments and force them to withdraw. And we have seen this rule of law and independent judiciary time and again - in the United States, in Great Britain and, I believe, in Germany and Australia too: in all of these countries the judiciary has decided that governments have acted beyond their powers. And the voters decided they wanted a move. We just saw that in America. These are the guarantors of moderation and decency.
Our problem is, if you are dealing with any government, this communist government of China, none of it is applicable. None of this happens. You cannot criticize in any way the behavior of the Chinese government in China for fear of arrest, persecution and detention. And worse, if you look at what's going on with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province. There women are forcibly sterilized and labor camps are set up. There are Chinese companies that use the labor from these labor camps. You know, these are the areas where a dictatorial government will not tolerate opposition and put pressure on the people. And that is unacceptable. There is no structure within China that will oppose this or see to it that this change on the basis of human rights or political discourse. That is the difference. America may be disagreed with, but it must be recognized that America has a strong independent judiciary. It has a strong democracy that allows the public to choose whether or not to agree to something. None of this exists in China.
Rieger: Freedom of expression is something that many athletes have rallied about over the past few years. And they went public. Wouldn't it be more effective to go to China and demonstrate that right in front of the people there and use the global stage that the Olympics are by nature?
Smith: Well maybe. Individuals can choose what they want to do. The best and strongest signal governments can send is not to condone what is going on in China today by attending the Olympics as China's guests. So my argument for boycotting the Olympic Games is political. As I said, it's up to the individual athlete. When what is your decision to do, this is your decision. And if you want to talk about it publicly, that's your choice too. If they then want to participate as individuals and protest there, they may have to face the consequences. Most importantly, governments need to send a signal. And the only way a government can send a token of its disapproval is if it refuses to obey the norms of diplomatic behavior by simply saying, I'm not ready to look away from what China is doing at home and abroad does by using his newfound power. We will say: enough is enough. And then I think there is more to come. It's not just about that.
(picture-alliance / dpa / Kyodo / MAXPPP) "China and the Olympic idea do not go together"
A year and a half before the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, human rights violations are being committed in China. Wenzel Michalski, of Human Rights Watch, expects the IOC to back off.
The athletes have the right to say that is all well and good. You sacrifice our goals and nothing else happens. I think the free world now needs to take stock of its enormous reliance on China for physical goods and investment. And she must realize that it is high time to reconsider this. Ultimately, we cannot separate economic engagement from political processes. The way in which they tried to do that in the case of China showed what happens then. We are strengthening the wrong element of our freedoms, in other words oppression. And we look away. And that is no longer possible.
The IOC is also called upon to act
Rieger: Of course, the IOC is a major player in this situation. How are you going to convince them to take a stronger position vis-à-vis China? Or do you expect it to do so?
Smith: Well, I wish they didn't have to be persuaded. And that they would be aware of it and be able to have a strong opinion about it. But my general view is that we can only do this if governments tell the IOC. And I would like my government to say: We believe that these Winter Olympics can no longer take place in the spirit and style of previous games. So the mutual meeting, the celebration of individual brilliance and also the idea of peace and harmony, even in competition. These things are annihilated by the place where the games take place. And this is a country that oppresses people. These people lack these natural freedoms, this sense of harmony, and these opportunities. At the same time, other people in the same country will behave as if they weren't. And this is the problem. Governments must make this argument to the IOC. I definitely want to do that.
Rieger: What do you expect from Germany, from our government and from our sports organizations?
Smith: I think it would be great if Germany, the rest of the European nations, sit down with the UK and the US and with others, Japan and other countries, Australia, New Zealand, India and everyone. And then you make, as I call it, a decision of the free world: that it is time to usher in the end of wrong behavior like this, which cannot be contradicted and which must be denounced. And I think that would be a phenomenal step. But I don't see any movement in that direction. It is interesting, however, that although Germany does a lot of business with China, some time ago it raised its general objections to China's behavior at the United Nations. That at least made for an interesting vote in the UN. That was at least a start. Perhaps, having started like this, Germany could even take on a leadership role.
* Note: In the original interview, it says centuries at this point
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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