During Friday's opening ceremony, China kicked off its Genocide Games with an obvious PR stunt; one of two athletes who lit the Olympic cauldron was a woman of reportedly Uyghur heritage. The unmistakable message China is promoting is that Western criticism is incorrect, that there is no genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinxiang, that the U.S. declaration of genocide is baseless propaganda.
Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a chance to set the record straight, but instead she told American athletes to stay quiet. "As I wish the athletes well, I do not encourage them to speak out against the Chinese government there because I fear for their safety if they do," she said on Friday. The comment doubled down on her widely criticized Thursday remark, "Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government, because they are ruthless." The obvious question becomes: if the Chinese government is so ruthless, why are we participating in their Olympics at all? But according to Pelosi, it's fine to criticize the government for human rights abuses in America, where you possess constitutional rights and can speak without fear of reprisal, but don't criticize a government that actually commits human rights abuses because that's too dangerous. There was a time when Americans were not encouraged to cower before tyrants, but to defend the persecuted when it came to fundamental human rights.
"It's a personal decision, but I would speak against this advice," responded Adrian Zenz, a leading researcher on the situation in Xinxiang. "I think it's a calculated risk to say something because, if China really did detain a Western athlete at the Olympics for speaking out, that would create such a global stir."
The Olympics puts a global media spotlight on China, "an opportunity not to be missed," explained Zenz. The Chinese are "doing everything they can to make it look incredibly smooth, incredibly professional or beautiful, putting on a wonderful façade that smooths over many of the very dark things that have increasingly been developing in Xi Jinping's China." In addition to the Uyghurs, China is oppressing many other groups -- the Hong Kongers, the Tibetans, the Inner Mongolians, house church Christians, other religious minorities like the Falun Gong. "These Olympics would be an opportunity to say more about that.
Zenz said the opening ceremony stunt was really an "admission" from Beijing that "they are on the defensive over what they are doing in Xinjiang." They recognize this is "a major PR problem" of global significance. Human rights accusations are a sore spot for China because their normal tactics for repressing such embarrassing accusations merely serve to confirm their truth. The advantage lies with those who will bravely stand up and tell the truth. Not only should athletes consider taking a stand, said Zenz, but also "both the United States and other Western governments should be more proactive in speaking out."
Sadly, many Western political and business leaders are more afraid of upsetting the world's biggest bully. Many multinational corporations are actively sponsoring the games and refusing to discuss China's human rights records. Do they care that they've tied their brand to genocide? NBC News, the U.S. network broadcasting the Olympics, refused to air an advertisement calling out U.S. companies who are partnering with China and profiting from Uyghur slave labor.
Powerful corporations and political interests don't want to draw attention to China's human rights abuses. Some of them, like Speaker Pelosi, are even willing to publicly warn competitors against standing up for what's right. "If we want to change history, if we want to stand up for others, we cannot but take risks," said Zenz. Competitors should "not doing something stupid, of course, but I would advise the opposite [from Pelosi], and I think history would justify that." What history won't justify is the 2022 Genocide Games.