Why Are Muslim Governments Silent On China’s Crackdown On Uighurs?

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The Chinese crackdown on Muslims seems to be growing more intense. Despite the mounting evidence of a Muslim crackdown in China, governments in Muslim-majority countries have made no meaningful statement on the issue.

Growing evidence of Muslim crackdown in China

About three weeks ago, a United Nations official cited “credible reports” claiming that China is holding about 1 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs in “re-education” or internment camps. Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority based in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Initially, Beijing only targeted Uighur extremists, but now, Uighur with signs of their Muslim identity, like a long beard, are sent to the camps. Last month when a UN panel asked a Chinese official about the camps, he denied that there are any such “reeducation centers,” and instead, he referred to them as vocational schools for criminals, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Despite such reports and evidence, Beijing so far has not faced any serious criticism from the Islamic world’s governments. Voices in the U.S. and Europe are also starting to pressure Beijing to end the Muslim crackdown in China. Recently, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers requested that U.S. authorities impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials.

“We are hopeful that the State Department will seek addition 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,” read a letter from a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. The letter is addressed to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Why are Muslim-majority countries silent?

It is surprising to see that governments in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Pakistan haven’t come up with any firm public statements on the Muslim crackdown in China. Even Turkey, which has favored Turkic-speaking groups and hosts a small Uighur population, is silent on the matter.

The silence of governments in Muslim-majority countries highlights China’s position as a significant trading partner to many of them. China is also a key aid provider to several Islamic countries. According to data from Bloomberg, China represents about 10% of Saudi Arabia’s oil exports about a third of Iran’s.

For Malaysia, China is the biggest foreign investor, and it has loaned more than $60 billion for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure (CPEC) projects. It must be noted that most of these governments have been vocal about President Donald Trump’s 2017 ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The silence of these countries now on the Muslim crackdown in China implies they don’t want to strain their relationship with China, which they also see as a potential ally against the West.

Why is China doing so?

The Muslim crackdown in China, specifically of the Uighur religious identity, is not a new thing. The country has long suppressed the group, claiming it promotes separatism and extremism. China fears that Uighurs will try to create their national homeland in Xinjiang, like in East Turkestan.

Riots in 2009 lead to hundreds of deaths, and in recent years, some radical Uighurs carried out terrorist attacks. Thus, Chinese officials believe that to suppress such threats, it needs to crack down on not the only extremist groups but also the rest of the Uighur population. According to UN estimates, the country has sent about 1 million Uighurs to so-called “re-education” camps.

There are reports that in the camps, Uighurs are forced to renounce Islam, which the Communist Party described as an “ideological illness” and a “virus [in] their brain” in one of its official recordings. Media reports also say that inmates are forced eat pork and drink alcohol, both of which are forbidden in Islam.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the size of the internment camp system in the Xinjiang region has almost doubled in just the last year. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China even referred to the internment camp system as the biggest “mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Taking Uighurs to the camps not only affects the person taken in, but also their family. After the Uighur parents are transferred to the camps, the children are reportedly sent to state-run orphanages in most cases. The children who are away from their family and relatives are cut off from the Uighur culture and language. Eventually, such policies may help China completely redesign the identity of next-generation Uighurs.

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