China Blasts Nancy Pelosi's 'Despicable' Winter Olympics Boycott

The Chinese government has hit out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's call for a "diplomatic boycott" of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, describing her comments as "full of lies" and a "despicable" political trick.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Pelosi said the United States had an "obligation to speak out" against China's worsening human rights record and its oppressive policies against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. She called on Washington D.C. and other capitals to shun the Games at a governmental level.

"Let's have a diplomatic boycott if in fact this Olympics takes place," she said. "Let's not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China to show their support for their athletes. When they come home, let's show them even more [...] respect, adulation."

The House speaker added: "For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you're sitting there in your seats really begs the question: what moral authority do you have to speak about human rights anyplace in the world if you're willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as it commits genocide?"

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not address Pelosi by name but was highly critical when asked about her remarks at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

"Certain individuals in the U.S." were using human rights as an excuse to "smear China," he said, calling it "an attempt to disrupt, obstruct and harm the preparations and hosting of the Beijing Winter Olympics."

Zhao called the comments a "typical American farce," "full of lies and disinformation."

"Certain U.S. politicians should stop using the Olympics to play despicable political tricks. Do not stand in opposition to every country's athletes and those who love the Olympic Games," he added.

Activists representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others have called for a full-on boycott of the Winter Games. Pelosi's comments add more pressure on the White House to lead what would be seen as a significant move directed at Beijing's policies.

During Tuesday's hearing held jointly by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Pelosi hinted the boycott may not succeed but argued the U.S. could not proceed "as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China."

"Silence equates with license," said Pelosi. "Those who turn away from crimes against humanity bear responsibility for them."

The International Olympic Committee would be "complicit" if it did "nothing to address irrefutable, decades-long, persistent, severe human rights violations in Olympics host countries like China," she added.

The speaker was also critical of corporate sponsors for not speaking out. U.S. companies listed as official "worldwide" Olympic sponsors include Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, P&G and Visa.

While the Chinese government continues to deny that abuses of human rights and genocide have taken place in Xinjiang, its view that the Olympics should not be politicized does appear to be shared by a majority of athletes.

In a letter to Congress on May 13, head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Sarah Hirshland argued against a boycott of the event, which will make Beijing the only city in history to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Games.

Hirshland said there were "valid concerns" about China's "oppression of the Uyghur population," but said an athlete boycott "is not the solution to geopolitical issues."

The Biden administration has not made public its decision regarding next winter's Olympics. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the U.S. would discuss the matter with allies and partners, suggesting some sort of coordinated approach was in the works.

The U.S. last boycotted the Games in the summer of 1980 in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan the year before. China was among 66 countries to shun the event.

Observers advocating for action by the IOC say it is still possible to postpone and move the games, avoiding a boycott.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Addresses Hearing
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attends a press conference with members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act at the U.S. Capitol on May 18, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pelosi has called for a "diplomatic boycott" of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images