House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned American athletes Thursday to beware of the “ruthless” Chinese communist government if they decide to speak out against human rights abuses while they are in Beijing for the Winter Olympics Games that begin Friday.
“I would say to our athletes, you are there to compete. Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless. I know there is a temptation on the part of some to speak out while they are there. I respect that, but I also worry about what the Chinese government might do to their reputations, to their families,” Mrs. Pelosi told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, issued the warning before congressional lawmakers marked the eve of the Olympics by hearing testimony on the suppression of the Uyghurs in western China and other abuses by the communist government.
“Participate, let us celebrate from abroad, and don’t risk thinking that there are any good intentions on the part of the People’s Republic of China government because there are none,” Mrs. Pelosi told American Olympians.
The State Department says the communist government continues to engage in genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province. The regime’s use of labor camps and a broad surveillance network occur in tandem with Beijing’s suppression of Hong Kong and Tibet and aggression toward Taiwan.
Citing these abuses, congressional lawmakers in both parties say it was a mistake to let Chinese President Xi Jinping secure the athletic showcase.
“When the International Olympic Committee awarded these games to Beijing in 2015, China already had the worst human rights record of any country on the planet. It has gotten worse since,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat and commission co-chairman.
He said the risks to foreign athletes at the Olympics “are real,” citing Beijing’s threat to punish participants who speak out during the games and concerns that mandatory phone apps could expose athletes’ personal information.
Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, said Mr. Xi should be at The Hague international court in the Netherlands facing charges instead of celebrating the opening ceremonies with a “propaganda extravaganza” at the “Genocide Olympics.”
Lawmakers said the criticism aired during the hearing was aimed at the communist government and not Chinese citizens or those of Chinese descent.
Witnesses slammed corporations who try to grab market share in China but do not acknowledge Beijing’s abuses.
“Our businesses, universities and sports leagues don’t seem to fully grasp that to eat at the CCP’s pig trough, you will have to turn into a pig, shed away your principles,” said Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of China Change, an English-language publication about human rights, rule of law and civil society in China.
She said Olympic athletes will be monitored closely and “will be risking a lot” if they speak up about abuses. The same also applies to Chinese citizens who try to speak out on social media.
“They can’t talk about anything that’s disagreeable to the government,” Ms. Cao said.
Jewher Ilham — the daughter of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who is detained in China — said Uyghur children whose parents are detained in Xinjiang are sent to orphanages or boarding schools for indoctrination in Chinese language, dress, food and songs.
Nathan Law, a democracy activist from Hong Kong, said China will use every advancement in surveillance and tracking technology to tighten its “Orwellian” control.
“We cannot afford to overlook it and understate what is happening now,” he said.
The U.S. will send athletes to the two-week Olympics in Beijing but did not send dignitaries for the opening ceremonies.
Mrs. Pelosi took credit for leading a charge with President Biden to wage a diplomatic boycott of the Games, a decision other countries copied.
“The United States and the international community know the truth. The People’s Republic of China is perpetrating a campaign of gross human rights violations, including genocide. Over the next two weeks there is an urgent moral duty to shine a bright light on the many human rights violations being perpetrated by the host nation,” the House speaker said. “If we do not speak out against human rights violations in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere.”
Mrs. Pelosi used her testimony to promote the COMPETES Act, which would designate Uyghurs as prioritized refugees of humanitarian concern and offer a special pathway to the U.S. for Hong Kong residents who experience political persecution.
The Republican Study Committee (RSC) has panned the legislation as feckless and misguided.
“It is weak and fails to properly confront the China threat, and it throws billions at unrelated issues that have nothing to do with our national security,” Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican and RSC chairman, said last month. “For example, it includes millions to study coral reefs and gives billions to the United Nations Green Climate Fund. At the same time, there is no money to enforce our sanctions laws or increase our military strength.”
Mr. Banks has said the bill should do more to protect U.S. intellectual property from Chinese interference and hold the communist government accountable for the spread of COVID-19.