One of Hong Kong’s most prominent dissidents is urging Canada to organize a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing with other liberal democracies to show China that its oppression of Hong Kongers and Uyghurs has real consequences.
Nathan Law is a Hong Kong activist living in self-imposed exile in Britain. He fled Hong Kong in July, a few weeks before news broke that the authorities were seeking the former legislator for allegedly violating a new security law Beijing imposed on the former British colony.
Mr. Law appeared before the House of Commons special committee on Canada-China relations on Monday. MPs are studying how to respond to China’s imposition of a law on Hong Kong that criminalizes dissent and opposition in violation of a treaty with Britain in which Beijing promised to maintain civil rights and the rule of law for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos asked Mr. Law how Canada could act in concert with allies.
Mr. Law suggested countries target the 2022 Winter Olympics set to begin 15 months from now in Beijing.
A boycott would “send a really clear signal that we are not going to follow the old path of engagement and appeasement ... but we are going to be very assertive and proactive,” he told MPs.
Skipping the Olympics would help create a more “consequence-based relationship” with China rather than “letting them do whatever they want.”
Another witness at the Canada-China relations committee on Monday agreed.
Angela Gui is a Hong Konger whose father, a Swedish citizen, was a bookseller in the Asian city who wrote political books on China. Michael Gui was abducted on a train in China by Chinese security forces in 2018 while travelling with Swedish diplomats and sentenced to 10 years in jail “for illegally providing intelligence overseas.” Ms. Gui has not seen him since, and China has announced her father renounced his Swedish citizenship and applied to have his Chinese citizenship reinstated. Amnesty International has called the charges against Mr. Gui unsubstantiated.
Aside from suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong and ending shipments of certain military goods to the territory, Canada’s response to the deteriorating rights situation there has included joint statements with allies. Canada has not been asked to extradite people to Hong Kong over the past five years.
Ms. Gui warned Canadian MPs that China cannot be relied upon to respect the citizenship of 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, and she said allies must advance beyond strong-worded statements and develop a strategic alliance on China that comes up with concrete action.
“Countries have been very keen to sign joint letters, which is still fine and well ... but as we’ve seen in the past, such declarations of intent haven’t really achieved anything," Ms. Gui said.
“China has historically never shown that it listens to soft encouragements,” she added later.
Canada and Hong Kong have strong ties. In 1941, Canadian land units had their first combat of the Second World War there, defending the city from Japanese forces. Several hundred thousand Canadians trace their origins to Hong Kong, and another 300,000 citizens split their time between Canada and Hong Kong.
Mr. Law told MPs the new national security law in Hong Kong has “created widespread psychological fear and terror." That’s because, he said, it gives Beijing the power to detain, arrest and prosecute political activists or dissidents they don’t like.
He said the treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province is more impetus to act. At least one million have been detained in what China calls re-education camps. The Associated Press reported in June that Beijing subjects Uyghur and ethnic minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces birth control, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told a British Parliamentary committee in early October “there is evidence of serious and egregious human rights violations." He did not rule out boycotting the Winter Olympics at the time.
Wenran Jiang, a retired political science professor from the University of Alberta, said a boycott would be counterproductive. “The Chinese general public would likely view such a move as mixing politics with sports and denying the Chinese people’s rights to host [their] first Winter Olympics.”
Second, he said, Beijing would likely use such a boycott to demonstrate how far “hostile forces” would go to contain China’s rise. “Instead of forcing Beijing to change course on human rights, such measures may be used as domestic propaganda [and] enhancing the government’s position."
Canada-China relations are extremely strained since Beijing locked up two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. They have been held for nearly 690 days in what is widely regarded as retaliation for the RCMP arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request.
China has demonstrated a tendency to politicize foreign participation in events to which it plays host. Last year, Canada sent a delegation of soldiers to a sporting competition in Wuhan, China – even as Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor remain jailed – and afterwards the Chinese embassy cited this as evidence the Asian power is not losing friends.
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