Mitt Romney is uniquely qualified to tackle the dilemma posed by Beijing hosting next winter’s Olympics. Disappointingly, however, his approach — as laid out in yesterday’s New York Times — amounts to a least-bad option. This would be better than nothing if nothing were the only viable alternative, but it is not.
To his credit, Senator Romney
sees clearly why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “does not deserve an Olympic
showcase.” He explains:
The Chinese Communist Party has reneged on its agreement to allow Hong Kong self rule; it has brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrators and incarcerated respected journalists. It is exacting genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities; Uighur women are forcefully sterilized or impregnated by Han Chinese men. Adults, ripped from their families, are sentenced into forced labor and concentration camps. Among ethnic Chinese, access to uncensored broadcast news and social media is prohibited. Citizens are surveilled, spied upon and penalized for attending religious services or expressing dissent.
In fact, this troubling list of
charges is not even complete. Tibet, for example, goes unmentioned, as does
China’s early negligence regarding COVID-19.
In order to deny the CCP “an
Olympic showcase,” Romney argues for an “economic and diplomatic boycott.” American
spectators should stay home; the White House should send a delegation of
“Chinese dissidents, religious leaders and ethnic minorities to represent us,”
rather than the usual assembly of diplomats and senior officials; and NBC,
which has broadcast rights, should “refrain from showing any jingoistic
elements of the opening and closing ceremonies and instead broadcast documented
reports of China’s abuses.”
If successfully carried out,
this plan would deprive China of revenue it seeks to derive from the Games, better
educate Americans on abuses in China, and deny Beijing an opportunity to have
its propaganda delivered directly to American living rooms.
Those are all good results, but
the problems with this approach are manifold. First, it is unclear on whom the
onus falls to ensure all of these steps are taken. Beyond the White House-appointed
delegation, there is no clear role for government outlined here. Perhaps
Senator Romney has in mind a congressional campaign aimed at encouraging NBC
and the American public to alter their Olympic plans, but he does not make that
clear. Or perhaps he expects human rights NGOs to exercise leadership. But
again, there is no suggestion that he, Congress writ large, or the
administration should encourage those NGOs or ensure they have the resources to
launch an effective economic boycott campaign.
Second, such an effort will leave
China as host of the 2022 Olympics — it will not deprive Beijing of a
propaganda coup at home, nor around much of the world even if we are able to
“enlist our friends … to join our economic boycott.” Romney may be right that a
full-blown Olympic boycott will not effectively “influence the behavior of the
home country or delegitimize its government” — he points to the boycott of 1980
Moscow Olympics to make his case — but the right approach might, indeed, have
such an effect. Romney does not consider that the 2022 games are scheduled to
be held just a few months before the 20th National Congress of the Chinese
Communist Party, at which Xi Jinping aims to become the longest-serving leader
since Deng Xiaoping. An Olympic-sized embarrassment could interact with the
fallout of Xi’s early missteps during the coronavirus crisis, ongoing economic
difficulties, and long-brewing intra-Party rivalries and grievances — thereby creating
a political storm that Xi finds difficult to ride out.
Here’s the right approach:
Beijing should be stripped of the games entirely, a decision that is within the
full legal rights of the International Olympic Committee. This may appear
farfetched, but unrelenting pressure from the United States and other countries
that dominate winter sports could make a difference (more than half of the
top-20 all-time Winter Olympic medal winners are US allies; even more are
liberal democracies). Those games should then be postponed and held elsewhere —
a collection of countries demanding change should step up to co-host, with each
offering up existing facilities and venues in order to reduce the need for
capital investments and ensure the Olympics can go forward. The IOC has
demonstrated it can be flexible with its postponement of the 2020 Summer Games
due to the pandemic. The sky did not fall then, and it will not fall if the
2022 Winter Games are postponed and restructured as well.
China is undertaking a genocide
in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party has snuffed out freedom’s light in
Hong Kong. The coronavirus has led to at least 2.5 million deaths worldwide.
Now is no time for half-measures. The United States should put its weight
behind an effort to move the 2022 Olympics now.