U.S. Ambassador: China Trying to ‘Distract’ from Human-Rights Abuses by Choosing Uyghur for Olympic Opening Ceremony

U.S. Ambassador: China Trying to ‘Distract’ from Human-Rights Abuses by Choosing Uyghur for Olympic Opening Ceremony

The Chinese flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, February 4, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday that China’s decision to prominently include a Uyghur athlete in the Olympic opening ceremony was a calculated move intended to “distract us from the real issue at hand that Uyghurs are being tortured.”

On Friday, China selected Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier who China says has Uyghur roots, to deliver the flame to the Olympic cauldron to kickstart the games at the close of the opening ceremony in Beijing.

During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Linda Thomas-Greenfield called out China’s attempt at manipulation: “This is an effort by the Chinese to distract us from the real issue here at hand that Uyghurs are being tortured, and Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese. And we have to keep that front and center.”

UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on China picking a Uyghur athlete to light the Olympic flame: “This is an effort by the Chinese to distract us from the real issue here at hand, that Uyghurs are being tortured.” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/lkrB0U0hXd

— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) February 6, 2022

When NBC broadcast the opening ceremony, correspondent Savannah Guthrie called the move an “in-your-face response to those Western nations, including the U.S., who have called this Chinese treatment of that group genocide and diplomatically boycotted these games.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced months ago that the U.S. government delegation would boycott the Olympic Games over the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, including the presumed suppression of tennis star Peng Shuai.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. The athletes on team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games,” Psaki said at the time.

Thomas-Greenfield said Sunday that the circumstances in China are “not business as usual” because “we know that a genocide has been committed there.”

“We’ve made clear that crimes against humanity are being committed in China. So it is important that the audience who participated and witnessed this understand that this does not take away from what we know is happening on the ground there,” she said of Yilamujiang’s role in the opening ceremony.

“We have to ensure that we continue to raise these concerns that are occurring in China at the moment,” she added.

China’s decision to have Yilamujiang deliver the Olympic flame was not the country’s only attempt at showing unity: the country orchestrated a traditional entrance of its national flag involving a group of people meant to represent China’s 56 ethnic groups.

“This is an effort to show they are all united under the Chinese flag,” Guthrie said during the broadcast, adding that China is “looking to demonstrate diversity.”

She noted there are “obviously deep tensions and concerns under the surface here” before asking NBC’s China expert, journalist Andy Browne, to weigh in.

“This is a national ritual meant to show that China’s ethnic groups live together as one big happy family, but as we discussed earlier, the Biden administration cited ongoing human rights abuses by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs, one of China’s ethnic minorities, as reasons for the diplomatic boycott,” he said, adding that the White House “did not want to contribute to the fanfare of the games such as this.”

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