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By Linda Burkle, PhD 

As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing concludes, we reflect on the many contrasts and incongruencies of the games hosted by China. While the world may have been captivated by the beauty, glitz, and pageantry of ceremonies carefully crafted to depict China’s tolerance and inclusion, behind the scenes, thousands are held against their will in reeducation camps. These “reeducation camps” are nothing more than prisons where people are arbitrarily detained, tortured, and abused.  

For the opening ceremonies, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) selected an ethnic Uyghur, DInigeer Yilamujiang to light the Olympic flame, which was seen by human rights groups as a political stunt to deflect from the ongoing genocide occurring a short distance away from the Olympic headquarters. Shortly after the lighting, Yilamujiang disappeared and has not been seen since. Uyghurs abroad called the selection offensive, staged for optics. It is also questionable whether Yilamujiang even qualified to compete in the Olympics, given that she placed 43rd in her cross-country skiathlon Olympic debut. [1]  

For us, these Games are just a reminder of the brutal repression under which Uyghurs are living currently,” Zumretay Arkin, an ethnic Uyghur Muslim, told CBS News. [2] In addition to Uyghurs, members of Falun Gong, Christians, and anyone who the CCP suspects as being disloyal, are also detained to be “re-educated.” Some are never seen again.  

With the development of high-tech surveillance, utilizing facial recognition, and artificial intelligence to monitor and harass religious and ethnic minorities, religious freedom in China continues to deteriorate. Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong have been targeted as well as Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim groups. Independent human rights monitors estimate that between 900,000 and 1.8 million Muslims have been detained in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang. [3] As a result, the U.S. State Department has again designated China as a “country of particular concern” due to “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” [4] Likewise, human rights watch groups continue to voice alarm over China’s abuses of religious and ethnic minorities. Open Doors 2022 World Watch List ranked China as the seventeenth of the worst perpetrators of religious persecution. [5] Last year, International Christian Concern also listed China and Chinese President Xi Jinping among the worst persecutors of Christians in its 2021 Persecutors of the Year Report. 

Against the backdrop of worldwide concerns over China’s ongoing repression of ethnic and religious minorities, multiple countries, including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with several others, have engaged in diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics. The primary reason for the boycotts is the CCP’s human rights violations against Uyghurs.

While these boycotting countries had athletes competing, top government officials did not attend. It is unclear as to the actual impact of such boycotts, which are largely symbolic. Historically, such boycotts have not led to policy changes, but they risk reprisals. The state media publication in China, China Daily, has already called for China to boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angles in 2028. [6]   However, with the rapidly changing global landscape, it is too early to predict if these threats will be carried out.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.

Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019, where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Dr. Burkle has worked with persecuted peoples in a number of countries, and her dissertation focused on religious persecution, specifically regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China, and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska. She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.