U.S. lawmakers urge corporate sponsors to avoid Beijing Olympics

Tibetan and Uyghur activists hold up a sign showing the Olympic rings like barbed wire during a protest in June 2021 in front of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland

WASHINGTON – U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday urged corporate sponsors to withdraw from the 2022 Beijing Olympics, accusing them of supporting what Washington sees as genocide in China’s Xinjiang region, but the companies said they did not that little influence.

In an often heated audience, members of Congress berated representatives of five major U.S. companies that will sponsor the Winter Games through partnerships with the International Olympic Committee.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Congressional Executive Committee on China which led the hearing, accused US companies of helping Beijing “reap the rewards of prestige and propaganda” and drew a parallel with the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler.

“He was already engaged in horrific acts against his own citizens and the worst was yet to come. But in this situation it is worse than in Berlin in 1936 because the genocide is already underway,” he said. .

The United States says Beijing is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkish-majority Muslim peoples in Xinjiang, where experts estimate more than a million people are being held in camps.

Beijing denies the genocide and has called the camps vocational training centers, a claim denied by Uyghurs who say they are forced to renounce religious traditions.

When asked repeatedly if the Olympics should be moved, Andrea Fairchild, senior vice president of Visa, said the credit card giant did not have “a specific opinion” because “it doesn sponsorship is not a decision and a role.

“As long as governments allow athletes to attend the Games, we as Visa will be there to support and sponsor them,” she said.

David Holyoke, who heads Olympic and Paralympic partnerships for Airbnb, said the company had stressed “the importance of human rights” with the IOC but had not responded if the Games were to leave Beijing.

Steve Rodgers, Intel’s legal adviser, responded most directly to lawmakers’ concerns, saying the chipmaker does not source from Xinjiang and strives to avoid forced labor.

He said the sponsorship “does not negate or undermine our commitment to respect human rights.”

– Strong criticism –

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a vocal critic of China, berated the companies and said each had come “with orders not to say anything that might offend the Chinese Communist Party.”

“I would say this is the most pathetic and shameful audience I have attended in eight years,” said Cotton.

In another pointed exchange, Representative Tom Malinowski, a Democrat active in human rights, asked if Airbnb would sponsor an event in Los Angeles “if the state of California has hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ Americans , Jewish Americans and African Americans in concentration camps. “

Holyoke replied that the question was “hypothetical” but that “human rights are at the heart of our values”.

He added that the company is “obliged to obey local laws” when asked by Malinowski whether Beijing in fact prohibited Uyghurs from staying on Airbnb by requiring guests to present documents.

Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat and co-chair of the committee, asked companies to take the example of leading Japanese automaker Toyota which has abandoned marketing for the ongoing Tokyo Olympics in light of public opposition to the Games regarding Covid-19 concerns.

McGovern said the Beijing Games could not be “business as usual” and renewed his call to move them.

“If we can delay the Olympics for a year for a pandemic, and that’s what happened in Tokyo, we can certainly delay them for a year for genocide,” he said.

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