Handing the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing, which will go head-to-head with Kazakhstan's capital Almaty in a vote for the hosting rights on July 31, would send out the wrong messages on human rights, as Beijing forges ahead with a widespread crackdown on rights lawyers, activists said.
"Xi Jinping has engineered the biggest mass detention of lawyers ever seen in human history," Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia told RFA in a recent interview.
"Lawyers are in a particularly difficult situation in China, where there are laws, but no rule of law, and where constitutionalism barely survives in the cracks," said Hu, who served a three-and-a-half-year jail term for "incitement to subversion" after he wrote online articles critical of Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"Xi Jinping may preach the rule of law, but he is also its destroyer. There is nothing more ridiculous than this," Hu told RFA ahead of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which will vote to choose between the two rival cities.
"If China is such a bad environment for the rule of law, how can they win the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics on July 31?" Hu said.
"It is the responsibility of the entire international community in the field of the rule of law and human rights not to retreat, but to speak out on behalf of these innocent lawyers," he added.
Hu echoed other Chinese activists in calling on Washington to review plans for a forthcoming state visit to the United States by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September.
"Xi Jinping's visit is the highlight of his year, when he wants to put on a big show for the international community. Are they going to allow this to go ahead swimmingly?"
A campaigner for human rights and AIDS victims in China, Hu was awarded the Sakharov Prize, a major human rights award, by the European Union in 2008.
He has acted as a key source of information for foreign media on human rights and environmental violations, government abuses, judicial injustices, and the mistreatment of dissidents.
More recently, Hu has been a vocal supporter of jailed Uyghur dissident Ilham Tohti, regularly speaking out against Chinese government policy in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Wednesday that awarding the Olympics to authoritarian regimes encourages them to commit further rights abuses.
"There is plenty of evidence that awarding the Olympics to a country with a bad human rights record readily leads to more abuses linked to the Olympic preparations and events that will tarnish the games," Minky Worden, HRW Global Initiatives director, said in a statement on the group's website.
"The IOC has a clear chance with the 2022 Olympics to bring its best game to the human rights playing field, and require hosts to do the same," she said.
The statement described China as "an authoritarian state that systematically curbs fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion."
'Human dignity' an issue
Since Xi Jinping assumed the presidency in March 2013, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has "unleashed an extraordinary assault on basic human rights and their defenders with a ferocity unseen in recent years," it said.
"It has also significantly narrowed space for the press and the Internet, further limiting opportunities for citizens to press for much-needed reforms," the statement said.
HRW hit out at the IOC for a lack of human rights protections built into the bidding process.
The Olympic Charter requires all hosts to uphold press freedom and identifies “human dignity” as an essential part of the Olympic movement, it said.
"However, the IOC has no human rights monitoring mechanisms in place to measure a host country’s respect for these rules," the statement said.
China's tightly controlled state media has played down the bid so far, while the upcoming vote has made little obvious impact on social media sites so far.
A post about the bid on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo on Wednesday garnered just nine comments, many of which were ironic or critical.
"Will this be a thrifty Winter Games?" wrote user @henghengtadielinglingtafu, while user @cxz3422 quipped, in a reference to the enforced closure of smog-belching facilities ahead of the 2008 Summer Games, "At least the air will be nice and clean, haha!"
User @GB18030 hit out at a perceived lack of sustainability in prestige projects like the Olympics.
"How many stadiums and sports facilities went to ruin after the 2008 Olympics? Is that sustainable development?"
And in an apparent side-swipe at tight censorship of public opinion, user @woshiweizhishu457816328185464 asked: "Are we allowed to oppose this?"
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.