Official Olympic ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Press Conference Defends China’s Abuse of Uyghurs
For a few weeks, everyone in Beijing could pretend that the Olympics were all about sports. Forget human rights. Forget the threat of China invading Taiwan. Don’t even think about playing politics or making any statement.
But a senior Foreign Ministry official who is Beijing 2022’s official spokeswoman, Yan Jiarong, blew that on Thursday, wasting a lot of time at the Games organizers’ final scheduled press conference.
Among his statements: that allegations of forced labor camps in Xinjiang province were “lies”; and that although Taiwan would feature in Sunday’s closing ceremony, there could only be “one China”.
Meanwhile, for good measure, Yan clarified that it was the reporters asking the questions, rather than herself, who were wrongly “politicizing the Games”.
More than a dozen Western countries have joined a US-led ‘diplomatic boycott’ of the Beijing Games over abuses in Xinjiang, where human rights groups say more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities are held in brutal labor camps. The US State Department calls the campaign of repression “genocide”.
The Chinese threw a metaphorical middle finger at those critics when they chose a young cross-country skier of Uighur descent to light the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, but since then, the IOC and organizers in Beijing managed to keep political issues off the agenda.
The gloves were, however, taken off Thursday at a joint IOC and Beijing Organizing Committee press conference, the last such event scheduled for Beijing.
After an official claim earlier today that there had not been a single positive test on Wednesday among nearly 70,000 people tested daily in the Beijing Olympics ‘loop’ – allowing organizers to claim victory over the variant Omicron – there should have been a party feeling to the occasion.
But Yan apparently hadn’t read the memo, repeatedly interrupting questions to IOC spokesman Mark Adams to clarify China’s position on major policy issues.
Adams was asked about Taiwan’s participation in the closing ceremony – after claiming that the IOC had effectively bullied Taiwan into sending a delegation – Yan interrupted to make an “additional remark”.
“We take a solemn position,” she said. “There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an indivisible part of China, it is a well-recognized international principle. We are still against the idea of politicizing the Olympic Games.
She came up again when Adams was asked about the existence of “concentration camps” in Xinjiang and the use of forced labor – issues he tried to brush off as “not particularly relevant” to the briefing.
“I think these questions are very much based on lies,” she said. “Some authorities have already disputed this false information. There’s a lot of solid evidence. You are welcome to refer to all this evidence and facts.
Yan again interrupted when Adams was asked about reports – denied by the IOC spokesperson – that the IOC uniforms had been produced by Uyghur workers or from cotton grown in Xinjiang. “These are lies from concerned groups,” she said. “We are against the politicization of sport. Thank you.”
Yan’s strident statements might not have been out of place at a Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing, where foreign correspondents asking uncomfortable questions are regularly harangued for submission, but not on a shared platform. with the IOC during the Olympic Games.
And it certainly shocked reporters at the briefing, with veteran British journalist Duncan Mackay describing Yan’s performance as “stunning” and suggesting the Chinese official had breached Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which reads: “No kind of Demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted at all Olympic venues, venues or other areas.”