Photo: Minas Panagiotakis - International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images

Senators Rick Scott and Josh Hawley have called on NBCUniversal, which has broadcast rights for the Olympics, to refuse to air the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, according to a letter obtained exclusively by Axios.

Why it matters: Consider this the opening shot in the struggle between human rights advocates, who believe that a country currently operating concentration camps should not host the Olympics, and the Chinese Communist Party, which will defend its successful bid to host the 2022 games at all costs.

What they're saying: In a letter dated Dec. 19 and addressed to top NBC executives, Scott and Hawley point to China's "abysmal" human rights record.

  • By agreeing to air the Beijing Olympics, the senators write, NBC is "placing profits over principles and ensuring that China can be accepted into the international system even as it violates its basic rules and tenets."
  • The lawmakers also warn about China's mass surveillance regime, pointing to recent leaked government documents that reveal how the Chinese security state is using mass data collection for predictive policing and mass detention.
  • "We urge NBC to stand with us and request that the [International Olympic Committee] re-bid the 2022 Olympics or refuse to air the 2022 games."

Background:

  • The Chinese Communist Party has built a vast network of detention camps, where it holds over a million Muslim ethnic minorities in a sweeping attempt to stamp out their culture and religion.
  • Recent leaks of classified Chinese government documents revealing the inner workings of its mass detention camps have galvanized government officials in the U.S. and Europe to ramp up pressure on Beijing.

The bottom line: The run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw global protests against China's human rights abuses. Expect the 2022 Olympics to generate just as much controversy — though this time, China has far more economic and diplomatic leverage to push back.

Go deeper: Scoop... China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance in Xinjiang

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