Dominic Raab hints UK could boycott 2022 Beijing winter Olympics amid evidence of ‘egregious’ human rights abuses of Uighur people

Foreign secretary says his ‘instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy - but there comes a point where that may not be possible’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 06 October 2020 18:13 BST
Dominic Raab hints UK could boycott 2022 Beijing winter Olympics

Dominic Raab has hinted the UK could boycott the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing amid clear evidence of China committing “serious and egregious” human rights violations towards the Uighur people.

The foreign secretary’s remarks come amid growing international concern over the treatment of the Muslim minority group in the north-Western Xinjiang province and an alarming study claiming the country has built nearly 400 internment camps since 2017.

On Tuesday – alongside 38 other countries – the UK signed a joint statement at the UN General Assembly calling on China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered” access of independent observers to access to the region.

"We are gravely concerned about the existence of a large network of 'political re-education' camps where credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained," the statement added.

Appearing in front of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Raab was asked by Conservative MP Alicia Kearns whether not attending the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing would send a “strong signal” that Britain will not take part in activities that provide a platform for a country committing human rights abuses.

In response, the cabinet minister said: “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics.

“But there comes a point where that may not be possible. I would say let’s gather the evidence, let’s work with our international partners, let’s consider in the round what further action we need to take.”

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has previously suggested the government should urge the International Olympic Committee to “strip” the country of its right to host the games in 2022, “or at least impose a ban on attendance by representatives of the Crown”.

Pressed on whether the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, who often attends international sporting events on behalf of the government, will be encouraged to attend, Mr Raab added: “That as I said will be a corollary of the wider process of evaluating evidence and working with our international partners and whatever further decisions we come to.”

Pressed on why the government had not classified the treatment of the Muslim minority as “genocide” amid evidence of forced sterilisation and torture, Mr Raab replied: “I’ve made clear there is evidence of serious and egregious human rights violations – gross human rights violations.

“On genocide the challenge has been – I say this as a former war crimes lawyer – is that you’ve got to demonstrate not only that it was it a destruction of a minority, however that’s classified, but with the deliberate intention of destroying it as such.

“That’s always been the challenge with the definition of genocide, but certainly I think the more we see of that evidence… the more the international community addresses its mind to it the more I think we ned to look very carefully at what action we take.”

“I think the concerns of what’s happening to the Uighurs in detention, the mistreatment, the forced sterilisation is something we cannot just turn away from. But obviously we want to gather the evidence carefully and work very closely with our international partners.

During his evidence session, the foreign secretary also claimed he has met “no-one” that thinks the UK is not a defender of the international rule of law after the Commons passed the government’s Internal Market Bill, which could override key aspects of the EU withdrawal agreement.

Labour’s Chris Bryant asked whether the legislation, which a cabinet minister admitted flouts international law, represented a “surrender of a key British value”.

However, the foreign secretary replied: "Whilst of course there is the Brexit drama going on and we're at the 11th hour of the FTA (free trade agreement) negotiations, when I leave the UK and indeed am not talking about Brexit with my European partners, no-one thinks the UK is anything other than a stalwart reliable defender of the international rule of law."

The SNP's Stewart McDonald raised the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which Mr Raab has accused China of breaking by forcing controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong.

Mr Raab said: "What I think you're trying to neatly do is draw some moral equivalence or substantial equivalence between the two and I think it's crazy, I think it's absolute nonsense."

He also insisted "we haven't broken international law" yet, instead saying the legislation is necessary due to "frankly some of the aggressive behaviour" from Brussels.

On the issue of the government’s plans for asylum seekers – after ministers faced a backlash over multiple reports of possible ideas – the foreign secretary said a proposal to send them to an island 4,000 miles away in the South Atlantic was considered as part of a “scoping exercise”.

The cabinet minister said the possibility of involving overseas territories including Ascension was considered during the initial development of the government's asylum reforms and that it was important to look at all options, even if just to rule them out.

He told MPs: "The home secretary leads on this. Obviously her commitment, which I support unflinchingly, is to make sure that we have got a system which achieves two dual objectives: one, it continues our tradition of being a haven for those fleeing persecution; two, it's fair and not ripe for abuse.

"She is leading the reform agenda on that ... we have looked at all the different possibilities for strengthening the system, whether it is to rule things in or out, and the Home Secretary will set out our proposals in due course."

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