China on Wednesday branded US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “full of lies” after she called for a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics on human rights grounds.
The run-up to the Games, set for February 2022, is being dominated by recriminations over widespread allegations of abuse of China’s Uyghur Muslims and other minorities, which the United States has labelled a “genocide”.
Pelosi on Tuesday had called for a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics, echoing fears from Washington that the Games will be used by Beijing to whitewash rights abuses.
Her comments provoked a fierce response from China, which denies mistreating the Uyghur minority and has said the internment camps where a huge number of them are held are vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.
“Some US individuals’ remarks are full of lies and disinformation,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“US politicians should stop using the Olympic movement to play despicable political games” or “use the so-called human rights issue as a pretext to smear and slander China.”
Rights groups say more than one million Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region have been held in camps in recent years, their rights to worship and freedoms heavily curtailed by Chinese authorities.
“Let’s not honour the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China,” Pelosi had told a rights commission.
“For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats really begs the question, ‘What moral authority do you have to speak about human rights anywhere in the world?'”
China has condemned previous boycott calls as politicising sport.
After rebounding from the pandemic, analysts say Beijing is eyeing the Games as an opportunity to parade its economic and diplomatic might on the global stage.
The White House has stopped short of backing a boycott — which is also strongly opposed by American athletes and that is seen as unlikely to gain widespread support among other Western nations.
Olympic officials have also urged for the rumblings of boycotts to be dropped from the flagship winter event.
But pressure is mounting on China.
This week a US State Department official accused China of turning “Xinjiang into an open-air camp” as President Joe Biden’s administration picks up where his predecessor left off on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.
The United States led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with the Soviet bloc snubbing the Summer Games in Los Angeles four years later in retaliation.