Skip to main content

Beijing Winter Olympic Games 2022

Volume 810: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the calls from human rights organisations to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

My Lords, we share the deep concern of these organisations regarding human rights violations in China, particularly those perpetrated against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. The UK has repeatedly taken a leading international role in holding China to account for its actions, including at the UN. We shall continue these efforts and keep further actions that may be required under close review. In respect of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, no decisions have yet been made about ministerial attendance. The participation of the national team in the Winter Olympics is, of course, a matter for our national Olympic committee, which operates independently of government, as stipulated by the International Olympic Committee.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he take back to anybody who is dealing with this the plight of the individual athlete, who may well be making a decision about their one chance to be at the absolute peak of their career—something they may have given their life to? If anybody decides not to go, or is told not to go, they should be given a chance to train sufficiently well to stand a chance the next time around, or possibly to make a career change, because that much we do owe them.

The noble Lord, as I have become accustomed to, makes a very pertinent and important point about the investment that is made in a person’s training for the Olympics. One look at me and noble Lords will know that I have never aspired in that respect—but, on a serious note, I totally hear the noble Lord, and of course I will take his sentiments back to colleagues within government.

My Lords, the IOC is bound by the Olympic charter and last year it committed not only to strengthening its human rights strategy but to considering an amendment to the charter regarding members upholding human rights. Do the Government support the incorporation of stronger human rights commitments in the Olympic charter, and would they also support strengthening human rights obligations in future host city contracts?

Again, in principle, I see no reason why we, as a Government, and I, in my capacity as Human Rights Minister, would not be supportive of both points that the noble Lord makes.

My Lords, with 1 million Uighurs incarcerated in Xinjiang, does this not conjure up the spectre of Munich? Does the Minister agree that we should now be giving advice to senior diplomats and members of the royal family as to whether they should be attending the Beijing Winter Olympics? If another country were to say that they were willing to host the Winter Olympics, how would Her Majesty’s Government respond?

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord’s final point; that would require various decisions at different organisational levels, not just by Her Majesty’s Government. On his initial point, I referred to ministerial attendance and, of course, we work with all attendees, including diplomats and the royal household, on future attendances. I note what the noble Lord said, but I cannot go further than that.

Is the noble Lord aware that China has apparently threatened the United Kingdom with sanctions in response to even considering a boycott? Therefore, we can see how important the 2022 Winter Olympic Games are to China’s global reputation. Will the Government be keeping any participation at these Games under close review?

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, participation will very much be a question for the national Olympic committee itself. What I can say is that there have been no decisions made about ministerial attendance—although I would add that, with the recent challenges we have faced, not many decisions have been made about ministerial attendance in various parts of the world. But I hear what the noble Baroness says.

My Lords, human rights matters, inappropriate activities in our universities, security threats, 5G, Hong Kong and now possibly a boycott of the Winter Olympics—sadly, our relations with China are poor and likely to grow increasingly problematic. Yet, paradoxically, government websites are still encouraging British businesses to invest in China, and we still, I believe, indirectly offer foreign aid to China. It all seems a little inconsistent, so will my noble friend accept that, while we all hope for an improvement in relations with China, it would be sensible to remind ourselves that there are many other exciting trading partners in the Indo-Pacific area, many of which are democracies, and that Britain’s Asia policy should increasingly no longer simply be a China policy?

My Lords, on my noble friend’s point about strengthening our global relationships across the world, we have specifically talked about the Indo-Pacific region. My noble friend will be aware of the strengthening relationships we have with key democracies in the world, including India. He is right to raise that wider spectrum of relationships. We are looking for strategic dialogue status within ASEAN. On his point about China, I hear very clearly what he says, but I draw his attention to the announcement that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made on 12 January for businesses operating directly with China, particularly with reference to Xinjiang. We continue to keep the situation of business relationships with China under review.

My Lords, I am sure none of us wants to see a boycott of the Winter Olympics, yet we are seeing unprecedented human rights abuses and we will be judged by future generations on how we respond. Have Her Majesty’s Government considered what actions they might take against companies that are either official sponsors, suppliers or partners of these Games and that are bidding for public contracts?

My Lords, I direct the right reverend Prelate to the point I made earlier about the 12 January announcement. We are looking to see how we can further strengthen any action that is required in this sphere. Businesses are also responsible for their own actions, but we are looking specifically at a number of the points that the right reverend Prelate has raised.

My Lords, perhaps I might pick up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Wood. Often, the emphasis for participation is on the individual athlete. Have the Government had any discussions with the national Olympic committee about the operation of the IOC Rule 50, which forbids athletes to protest at Olympic venues? Surely it is time for the IOC to align the Olympic Charter with the UN Declaration of Human Rights—we should not allow athletes to be put in this position again.

I agree with the sentiments and the thrust of the noble Lord’s question: the onus should really be on an acceptance by all international committees of the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights. The specific interaction is a question for another department, but I shall inquire and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, anyone who doubts the propaganda use to which the Olympics can be put by an authoritarian regime should visit the astonishing, magnificent 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin, which is a monument to National Socialism, whereas the boycott—the partial boycott—of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 sent a strong signal to the Soviet Union. So I urge my noble friend to take away the message that we will actually be assisting the Chinese Government in their use of propaganda if we do not condemn the Chinese Government by not sending any Ministers or official representatives to the Olympics.

I have noted very carefully what my noble friend said. I have already alluded to the fact that we have not yet made any specific decisions, but the decisions and calls we have made about the human rights situation in China have been very clear.

My Lords, boycotting the Winter Olympics in China for its brutal treatment of the Uighurs and other minorities would send an important message about the UK’s total commitment to human rights. Will the Minister underline this commitment by also condemning India’s behaviour for its indiscriminate use of tear gas, water cannon and savage police beatings of tens of thousands of farmers in their three-month peaceful demonstration against unjust and unconstitutional laws?

My Lords, as the Minister responsible for our relationship with India, I reassure the noble Lord that we continue to raise a wide range of human rights concerns in a very constructive manner with India. On the specific issue the noble Lord raised, I assure him that we have reiterated the importance for any democracy of safeguarding a person’s right to protest.

My Lords, the Winter Olympics is a wonderful spectacle that we all enjoy watching. However, are we prepared to countenance sending Team GB to a country with such an appalling record on human rights, with Hong Kong in addition to the plight of the Uighurs? Are the Government waiting for a third devastating infringement of human rights before they decide to ignore China’s threats of retaliation before withdrawing ministerial attendance?

My Lords, we have been very much on the front foot and leading the charge. I have been engaged quite extensively, as the noble Baroness will know, at the Human Rights Council and within the UN framework in raising egregious abuses of human rights, particularly against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. I have already answered on the question of attendance in my original response.

My Lords, China has form on this. It threatened the Australians with sanctions about the WHO. Will my noble friend the Minister ask the Government to put this on the G7 agenda so that we can get a co-ordinated response, rather than just one country or another? Of course, it is still not too late to move the Winter Olympics to another venue, but it will be if we let things drift.

My Lords, on my noble friend’s second point, that is, of course, not a matter for the British Government, but I know what he is saying. On his first point about G7 action, he will have seen increasing co-ordination between G7 members around a values-based system for international human rights and we will continue to co-ordinate with our G7 partners during our presidency.

My Lords, I declare my position as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. Given the grave concerns about human rights abuses in China and its position as a source of much sporting equipment and specialist clothing, can the Minister tell me what support the Government are giving to UK sporting bodies to avoid products linked to slave labour and abusive labour practices, such as those widely reported in Xinjiang?

My Lords, I understand that it is the noble Baroness’s birthday, so I will add my best wishes to her. Picking up on the seriousness and appropriateness of her question, we made announcements on 12 January specifically for companies in the public and private sectors to look at their supply chains. We will announce further details in this respect and we will talk through the usual channels on any further announcements that need to be made.

My Lords, I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Robathan about the significance of Berlin in 1936 and Moscow later, but particularly Berlin. Unless there is a notable improvement in the next three or four months in the way the Chinese Communist Party treats the people of China, especially the Uighurs, the Chinese Christians and other faith and minority groups, should we not order our athletes and their representative bodies to withdraw from participation in these Games and try and get them moved elsewhere?

My Lords, let me reassure my noble friend. He will be aware of my commitment to the importance of freedom of religion or belief around the world. This issue is very pertinent to what my noble friend raises. We have talked often about the Uighurs and other minorities within China. It is very much a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. I know it is a priority for our Prime Minister. On the issue of the Olympics and China’s current hosting or a change of venue, as I have already said, that is not a matter for Her Majesty’s Government, but my noble friend makes a very strong point, as others have during this short debate.