Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Muslim governments silent as China cracks down on Uighurs


As calls grow in the US and Europe to pressure China to halt alleged human rights abuses against its Muslim minority, Beijing has so far escaped any serious criticism from governments across the Muslim world.

Almost three weeks after a UN official cited “credible reports” that the country was holding as many as 1 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs in “re-education” camps, governments in Muslim-majority countries have issued no notable statements on the issue.

The silence became more pronounced last week after a bipartisan group of US lawmakers urged sanctions against senior Chinese officials.

“We are hopeful that the [US] State Department will seek addition [sic] opportunities to condemn these abuses while also undertaking robust diplomatic engagement with like-minded governments to further elevate this human rights crisis in international forums and multilateral institutions,” US lawmakers led by US Senator Marco Rubio and US Representative Chris Smith on Wednesday last week wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

They joined EU officials who have previously expressed concern about the camps in Xinjiang.

By contrast, the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan have not released public statements on the clampdown. Neither has Saudi Arabia.

Even Turkey, which has in the past offered favorable policies to Turkic-speaking groups and hosts a small Uighur population of its own, remained silent as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan grappled with an economic crisis.

The split underscores how China’s position as a key trading partner and aid provider to many Muslim-majority nations — as well as its long-standing policy to avoid commenting on the internal affairs of other countries — is paying off.

The alleged abuses are also occurring in one of China’s most remote and heavily policed frontiers, making it hard to acquire firsthand evidence, such as photographs and videos, that might sway public opinion in the Muslim world.

“China generally has friendly relations with most Muslim countries, mostly around trade,” said Hassan Hassan, senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington think tank.

The Muslim world is largely unaware of the situation in Xinjiang, he added. “It’s not covered almost at all in Arabic media, and even jihadis don’t dwell on it as much as they do about other conflicts.”

China officially denies problems in Xinjiang, a vast region the size of Alaska bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan that is home to about 10 million Uighurs.

Beijing on Thursday last week warned the US lawmakers not to interfere in its internal affairs.

“The policies and equal rights that Chinese minorities enjoy are far better than in the US, which has [a lot of] issues with racism and human rights protection,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told a briefing in Beijing.

The US lawmakers should focus on issues at home “instead of interfering in other countries’ internal politics, playing judges on human rights and casting blame, or even threatening to impose unreasonable sanctions,” she said.

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in a report released on Thursday last week that estimates of the number of Xinjiang residents held in camps ranged from the tens of thousands to upwards of 1 million.

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