A committee of Democratic and Republican lawmakers wrote a letter on Wednesday, Nov. 24, to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asking it to exert pressure on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to end its human rights violations before the Beijing Olympics take place.
The Congressional-Executive Committee on China (CECC), a bipartisan committee focused on human rights oversight in China, sent a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach noting that the recent video call he had with tennis player Peng Shuai was a clear demonstration that the IOC has great leverage over the CCP and should use it to bring about change before next year’s Games.
“Your video call with Peng shows that you can in fact use the power of your office to weigh in on human rights concerns inside China. It further shows that you, as IOC President, personally can cooperate with Chinese authorities to address a human rights concern,” the letter to Bach said.
“Therefore, we once again reiterate the request that you use the IOC’s substantial leverage to demand that the Chinese government [CCP] improve human rights prior to the start of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter is a second attempt by the CECC, which in July this year made a similar request to which the IOC replied that it was not in a position to intervene in local affairs on behalf of human rights.
Peng Shuai, a world tennis doubles champion, disappeared in early November after uploading a video on the Chinese social network Weibo—accusing China’s former vice-premier of having sexually abused her.
Her account was quickly removed, but her video was captured by other users and, in a short time, accumulated more than 32 million reproductions.
The case immediately generated uproar in the international community due to the high profile of the athlete and tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, who used their platforms to call for Peng Shuai’s proof of life.
Most notably, World Tennis Association (WTA) President Steve Simon threatened Beijing to take China’s tennis tournaments elsewhere if the tennis player did not show convincing signs of life.
Faced with international pressure, the CCP, through its media, tried to dispel the allegations by showing photos and videos of Peng Shuai with friends and family. Still, since it could not verify the photos or the dates of the videos and since the Chinese state media published them, it did not convince Simon, who demanded: “independent proof” of her well-being.
The circumstances are unknown, but this Sunday, Bach arranged with the CCP a video call with the tennis player to “show that she was well.”
It is unclear why the CCP did not respond to the WTA’s public demands and yet contacted Bach, who has reiterated his position not to make human rights claims to the CCP.
The congressmen agreed that the video call and the circumstances under which it was made were not proof of Peng Shuai’s well-being.
“While we are relieved that your Nov. 21 video call showed that Peng was alive, it failed to address many of the continuing concerns about her situation.” For example, “We do not know whether she has freedom of movement or speech or whether she is in some form of enforced home detention,” the U.S. lawmakers’ letter said.
“We do not know the state of her mental or physical health following her accusation of sexual assault, much less whether authorities are investigating the subject of her allegation. We do not have an explanation why Chinese authorities continue to censor coverage of her case,” they added.
In their final request, the congressmen ask the IOC president—given the demonstrated power or high connections he has with the communist authorities—to organize a new video call in which they can be present and a select group of journalists who can question the tennis player without restrictions.
The letter was signed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
The Biden administration expressed that it is “reviewing” the option of a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games, which would imply that no U.S. officials would attend the event.
However, for the CCP, Biden’s possible diplomatic boycott has no relevance. As long as the IOC does not take more concrete actions, one of the most important sporting events in the world will be held in the same place where innocent people are imprisoned for their faith or ethnicity, tortured, and even killed as the world celebrates Beijing.