Canada’s former top diplomat to Hong Kong called on his country to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 in response to China’s imposition of a law that allows it to imprison dissidents deemed a threat to “national security.”
The Globe and Mail reported that John Higginbottom, who served as commissioner for Canada in Hong Kong between 1989 and 1994 and has also worked on diplomatic missions in Beijing, urged athletes to boycott the games unless China “lays off” infringing upon the sovereignty of Hong Kong. Under the proposed “national security” law, they plan to effectively criminalize any activities seen as undermining Beijing’s total authority.
“The next Winter Games are in February 2022, not long from now. China wants them badly as the latest pageant of national power and prestige,” he said. “Winter Olympics are easier to organize a boycott than Summer. Medals are concentrated in a few friendly, cold, democratic countries.”
Relations between the two countries have been strained recently because of the dispute over Hong Kong, home to an estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens. Over the past year, mass demonstrations have taken place across the city against Beijing’s aggressive interference, a flagrant violation of the “One Country, Two Systems” agreed to by China following Hong Kong’s handover from the vestiges of the British Empire back in 1997.
Another point of tension between the two nations is China’s continued incarceration of Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and North Korea consultant Michael Spavor on charges of threatening state security. Their detention was widely understood as a retaliatory act by Beijing following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
Higginbottom is far from the only figure calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which China intends to use as another showcase of their national power and prestige. Supporters of China’s persecuted Uyghur Muslim community, over a million of whom have been placed in concentration camps, have also called for a boycott of China as a whole in response to their egregious human rights violations.
One of the leaders of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, 23-year-old Joshua Wong, said a boycott could be “one of the ways for the world to challenge China’s decision and urge for the withdrawal of this evil law.”
”The new security law is just another new weapon for Beijing to leverage political pressure, which puts all Canadians working and living in the city under threat,” he said. “[To defend] the city’s autonomy and the Canadian interests in this global financial city, I call upon the Canadian government to reconsider Hong Kong’s special treatment and take all necessary actions to oppose the national security law.”
Responding to calls to boycott the games, Canada’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “The decision on whether or not to participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Games lies with the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees.”
The last time China hosted a major Olympic competition was in 2008, when it hosted the Summer Olympics. The event ended up being highly politicized, with several world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel opting to boycott the event in protest of China’s widespread repression of its citizens.