It is disappointing to see self-described “socialist” Green MSP Ross Greer, and especially Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba backingthe US-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over alleged human rights abuses in China. Thanks to their help, Scotland announced a day before the UK that it would be joining Lithuania, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States in refusing to send any diplomats or government representatives to the games, a part of US “New Cold War” escalations against their biggest ideological and economic rival.
Olympic boycotts are nothing new. Straight out of the Cold War handbook, the largest was of the Soviet Union in 1980, with the US leading another 65 countries to boycott the games over alleged “human rights abuses” in Afghanistan. We can now see this for what it really was: a hypocritical attack by the capitalist West against the socialist East rooted in ideology, rather than evidence. After all, the socialist Afghanistan which the Soviets defended represented huge advances to human rights in the country, including land reforms, literacy programs, and steps towards the emancipation of women and ethnic minorities.
The parallels with today are striking. Yet somehow, the left are still falling for the same dirty tricks, with alleged human rights abuses this time centring around China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the people of Hong Kong and Tibet. Villalby and Greer are newly elected co-conveners of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Tibet, working with US and UK-based NGOs such as Free Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet to promote Tibetan separatism. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is also a member, a political organisation claiming rightful leadership of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Chinese province of Qinghai which has openly admitted to receiving millions of dollars in funding from the CIA and continued funding from the US government.
It might be worth asking Villalba and Greer about their position on Tibetan history. Would they like to see Tibet return to the Dalai Lama-ruled feudal slave society of just a short 70 years ago which saw millions suffering from poverty and illiteracy, and many thousands of children separated from their families for a life of spiritual servitude, or raped by their Buddhist elders? Do they want to return the Dalai Lama to one of the 1,000 rooms of the Potala Palace, or give the Drepung monastery back the 25,000 serfs and 185 manors which it had kept until the old order of landlords and theocrats was overthrown? Why do otherwise staunch republicans who recognise the harm done by religious states such as Saudi Arabia back calls by groups like the CTA and the World Uyghur Congress to establish similar regimes in Tibet and Xinjiang? Why support a CIA-backed member of a former slave-owning class because he dresses up in orange robes?
Tibetans have seen 628,000 registered poor lifted out of poverty since 2016 thanks to Chinese government programmes, while in the same timeframe, the UK has seen an additional 400,000 children slip into poverty. Do they honestly think that the UK’s is a system of democracy with human rights that native Tibetans are interested in? And even if they were, do they think that the country responsible for the Opium Wars and the colonisation of Hong Kong should have any say over how Chinese territories are divided and governed? There’s only one word for this: imperialism. When we’re headed for a “New Cold War” with China, it’s sickening to see the so-called ”left” banging the drums.
Eben Dombay Williams, is a member of the YCL’s Glasgow branch