Anthony Shiu was born in San Francisco. His father’s parents are from China. Several generations may separate him from China, but the 60-year-old transit mechanic spends his free time as an activist against anti-Asian hate crimes and helping to run a lion dance troupe. Lion dances are a facet of traditional Chinese culture.
In that spirit, he backs Beijing as the 2022 Winter Olympics host city despite a litany of Sino-U.S. political issues that culminated last month in Washington’s decision to boycott the Games diplomatically. He plans to watch the world sporting event on TV if time allows.
“To me, Beijing is just a hosting country, and the committee said, ‘We’re going to hold it here,’ so where they hold it is not important to me,” Shiu told VOA during an interview in Portsmouth Square park at the core of San Francisco’s historic Chinatown.
Shiu’s ideas about the Beijing Winter Olympics reflect those of many fellow Chinese Americans: China has the right to hold the Olympics despite Western condemnations of the country over human rights problems. Still, there’s a faction that would prefer Beijing not host the Games.
“It’s a sport,” said 38-year-old Vincent Fung, a Chinese American operator of the Buddha Exquisite Corp. paper goods store in Chinatown. “People should respect (that), it doesn’t matter what race. That’s what the Olympics stands for. So, if you’re boycotting things, that defeats the purpose of having the game. That’s my view on it.”
Chinese American Sherwin Won, 69, a retired university clinical lab scientist from San Francisco, skis and plans to watch the Olympics. He even hopes to visit Beijing someday, post-COVID-19. “The team members have nothing to do with China,” Won said of participating foreign athletes. “It’s their sports.”
Tension over Taiwan, Hong Kong, Uyghurs
Supporters of diplomatic boycotts in multiple Western countries have called out Beijing over perceived strong-arm tactics toward Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Critics, including politicians in the U.S., EU and human rights organizations, also find fault with China for its treatment of the largely Muslim Uyghur population in the Chinese Xinjiang region, including sending more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic minorities to internment camps.
China has denied these accusations, saying the camps are vocational training centers to help alleviate poverty and fight extremism.
In the United States, White House press secretary Jen Psaki last month said the administration would avoid sending officials to the Games -- the diplomatic boycott -- due to “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “The United States should stop politicizing sports, and stop disrupting and undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, lest it should affect bilateral dialogue and cooperation in important areas and international and regional issues,” according to Chinese state media Xinhua.
Hot and cold Sino-U.S. history
Sino-U.S. ties blossomed in the 1970s after then-U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic meeting with Communist leader Mao Zedong. The same decade saw a wave of immigration from southern China to American cities such as San Francisco, mostly to earn money and join relatives who were already in the country.
About 5 million Chinese Americans live in the United States today, census data show.
Relations have slipped since 2017 over trade friction, consular spats and technology transfer issues. The two superpowers have jousted too over the autonomy of Taiwan, with Beijing calling it a Chinese territory and Washington offering to defend it, and crackdowns against antigovernment protesters in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.
Some Chinese Americans often feel distant from human rights causes, and as ethnic Han people -- China's vast racial majority -- are not “sympathetic to the Uyghurs,” said Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington.
“Second, the boycott apparently makes bilateral relations more difficult, and it is even harder for Chinese Americans to travel back to China,” Sun added.
Justine Chen, 38, a Nashville, Tennessee-based communications director of Taiwanese American ancestry, says Beijing qualifies more as a showroom for the government than as an elite venue for athletes.
“I don't think they should have won the bid in the first place. Not just because of their human rights record but because I don't think they provide the best experience for athletes nor spectators,” she said. “It's all a big show so the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) can pretend it has its affairs together when it really doesn't.”
Chen attended the Beijing Summer Games of 2008 and the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Sydney offered better venues, she said.
“I think as a minority in America that has seen a huge amount of hate and violence over the past two years against people who look like me, I wish I could have more pride in an Asian country hosting such a large event that's supposed to unify people of all kinds, including those participating in the Paralympics,” Chen said.
Human rights concerns
Many people of Asian ancestry in Southern California oppose China’s acts in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, said Ken Wu, Taiwanese American vice president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs Los Angeles chapter. His Washington, D.C.-based group lobbies Congress for pro-Taiwan legislation.
They support diplomatic boycotts but also a guarantee that athletes can attend the Beijing Olympics as a reward for their practice, he said.
“Right now, I think the whole advocacy community and the whole human rights community are kind of agreeing on that’s the direction we should go,” Wu said. “We should continue to pressure the states to exercise the diplomatic boycott and also hopefully we can get the businesses not to sponsor, but let’s put our support behind our athletes.”
While Chinese Americans differ on their views of China as the host city of the Winter Olympics, they all stand behind the athletes who have worked to qualify for a spot in what has become a contentious world competition.