WASHINGTON (Reuters)—U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday the United States has a moral duty to condemn China's rights abuses but she urged U.S. athletes not to risk angering the "ruthless" Chinese government, a day before the opening of the Beijing Olympics.
Pelosi, speaking at a Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing, said the International Olympic Committee "turns a blind eye" to Beijing's rights violations.
Rights groups have long criticized the IOC for awarding the Games to China, citing its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, which the United States has deemed genocide. China denies allegations of human rights abuses.
Lawmakers on Monday urged U.S. Olympic officials to prepare to defend American athletes from possible Chinese government retaliation should they choose to speak out about China's rights abuses during the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Pelosi said Washington had an "urgent moral duty to shine a bright light" on Beijing's abuses during the Games.
"Now the IOC, aided by corporate sponsors, once again turns a blind eye with the 2022 Winter Olympics just to bolster their bottom line," Pelosi said.
"If we do not speak out against human rights violations in China, because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere."
But she said athletes should focus on competing in Beijing and resist the temptation to speak out. "Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless."
Representative Jim McGovern, the Democrat who leads the committee, blasted the IOC and corporate sponsors.
'If given a choice, I believe no athlete would want to compete in a country committing genocide and crimes against humanity. But that is what they are forced to do because of the feckless IOC and its corporate sponsors," he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina, editing by Mark Heinrich)