Winter Olympic games in a country with concentration camps? Are Swedish athletes expected to bobsled through a gulag? Have their equipment carried, not by volunteers, but by forced labor with bruises on their backs? It should be completely out of the question. Sweden has no choice but to boycott the Winter Olympics in China next year. So why the silence?
Fear is an important factor and a rational one considering how easily the Chinese regime resorts to blackmail and power politics. For each passing day, the Chinese ambassador in Sweden sounds less like a diplomat and more like Tony Soprano.
According to The Economist, around 85% of Swedes have a negative view of China, a statistic partly attributable to the ambassador’s undiplomatic behaviour. Any objection concerning Huawei, Gui Minhai, trade or Hong Kong, however minor and justified, is enough to awake his wrath and have open threats hurled against you. “Stop what you are doing or face the consequences”, he is fond of saying to Swedish journalists, businesses and the government itself.
It is a credible threat. Standing up to China is costly both in terms of commerce and security policy. On the other hand, a gulag is a gulag. This short article does not allow for a full list of torture methods to which the Uighurs are being subjected to. Among a total population of 12 million Uighurs, between one and two million people have been either brainwashed, physically abused, forcefully sterilized, raped or forced into labour. And that is not all. The whole Xinjiang province is an open-air prison where the distinction between free and unfree people is hard to make.
Even on the streets, people are being harassed, kept under surveillance and forced to spy on each other. Having a beard and taking a moment to pray can be interpreted as extremism. To receive a phone call from a Muslim majority country can be penalized, regardless of what the phone call is about.
There is another creative evil which the Chinese regime is spreading into every household. Han Chinese (members of the majority ethnic group in China) are encouraged to move into Uighur homes, and the hosts are forced to share their beds and meals with the uninvited guests. Sometimes they stay for up to ten days, each month. This practice is called ”becoming kin”. One witness account tells us about a ten-year-old girl being paired up with a man twice her age. There they were, “the relative” and the child, sitting on a sofa in front of the mother who could do nothing but watch.
Children belonging to abducted parents are seen as a logistical problem because there are so many of them. They end up in different “educational facilities”, surrounded by high fences. Their teachers are instructed to distance children from parents, partly by prohibiting any use of the Uighur language in schools. The parents’ religion is also demonized. When pupils are asked if God exists and answer yes, they get beaten.
China’s extermination campaign aims to dilute and eliminate Uighurs’ Islamic faith, culture and language. It is an extreme example of what islamophobic assimilation policy can lead to. It is also a crime against humanity on a scale that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. A crime that the USA government has labelled as genocide, invoking satellite images, eyewitness testimonies and official documents which are in no need of hacking. Sometimes they are readily available to download from a Chinese municipality’s website.
Consumer and NGO campaigns against Western companies profiting on Uighur slave labour have recently been intensified. When H&M and other corporations voice concern about cotton harvested in Xinjiang, they are met with a fierce boycott organized by the Chinese government and nationalist Internet trolls.
The USA, EU and Canada have jointly imposed sanctions against Chinese individuals actively involved in the atrocities. More than ten Muslim-majority countries have withdrawn their official support for Xi Jinping’s treatment of Uighurs. Needless to say, these actions are far from sufficient.
Boycotting the Winter Olympic games is the least Sweden could do. This issue should not be conflated with the age-old debate about politics and sports. It should not be seen as a debate of any kind. Celebrating sports in China today is equal to dancing on someone’s grave. It simply cannot happen. So why not make Sweden’s boycott official – today?