Uighur genocide in China amid the Muslim world’s silence

Uighur genocide in China amid the Muslim world’s silence

According to a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in early November 2018, Chinese authorities have rounded up around one million Muslims in the so-called “re-education” camps and have transformed the East Turkestan (Xinjiang province) to an open-air detention center. The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as any “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”, and based on this definition, the ethnic cleansing in East Turkestan could be a precursor to a genocide.

Denying UN reports on Uighur ethnic cleansing, China claims that it is fighting Islamic terrorism in line with Beijing’s policy of fighting the “Three Evils”, which are “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism”. The creation of a global coalition to defeat Islamic terrorism in the aftermath of 11 September, 2001, has created a unique opportunity for China to start a brutal crackdown on its Muslim minority.

China has banned any form of expression of Islam in East Turkestan including fasting, praying, congregation, and having beards and clothing that suggest their adherence to the Islamic faith. China has made it mandatory for all Uighur Muslims to have their vehicles equipped with a GPS tracking device. It has also banned all Islamic texts, including the Quran, and Muslim names are also outlawed. According to reports from human rights organizations, China has ordered its officials in Xinjiang to send almost half of its population to “re-education camps.” Chinese government claims that the detained people are part of its plan to fight terrorism and they are taking courses for “rehabilitation”, “deradicalization” and learning “Chinese values”.

Uighur Holocaust and Muslim hypocrisy 

While the US and countries of the EU are trying to put pressure on China for its mistreatment of Uighur Muslims, China has yet to receive any criticisms by the Muslim countries. After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s criticism of China, a group of American lawmakers have asked for sanctions on Chinese officials involved in Uighur abuse. The EU countries have followed the suit and have joined the US in condemning China’s brutality.

Nevertheless, Muslim nations that are quick to react to a Quran burning event in the US, a Muhammad cartoon contest in Europe, or the death of a Palestinian civilian by Israeli soldiers, are totally silent in the face of this mass incarceration and transformation of East Turkestan to the largest open-air prison on earth. This silence stems from the fact that Muslim countries in the Middle East have major business ties with China and do not want to endanger these relations, and as Omer Kanat, a senior member of the exiled World Uighur Congress, says Islamic nations look at China as a strategic ally to stand against the Western countries and, therefore, they prefer to remain silent about the Uighur plight to avoid angering Beijing.

For instance, the Islamic Republic of Iran is usually quick to react when Israel is part of the conflict, as well as when Muslim individuals are mistreated in the West, but at the same time, it disregards the persecution of Muslims in Russia (Chechnya) and China (Uighurs), and this selective approach towards the plight of Muslims undoubtedly discredits any claims by the Iranian government in supporting oppressed Muslims around the world. Tehran views Beijing as a key ally in defying US-imposed sanctions and doesn’t want China’s Muslim abuse to hurt its bilateral ties.

Turkey, too, has not reacted to China’s Uighur pogrom. In the past, Ankara has always been vociferous on China’s ethnic cleansing policies in East Turkestan, where 22 million Uighur Turks live. Turkey previously has admitted and resettled some Uighur refugees, but this time it has remained silent about the new round of China’s Muslim crackdown. The main reason behind this indifference is Turkey’s soured relations with the West (the US and EU), and in Ankara’s strategic shift to the East, China acts as a new economic power and a key partner and lender.

Another stark example of Muslim hypocrisy is Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of Sunni Islam. The rise of China in the last four decades and its thirst for Persian Gulf energy, has made the country a major business partner for most of the Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the advent of the “Shale Revolution” in the United States and the decline in Uncle Sam’s dependency on Middle East energy, has prompted countries like Saudi Arabia to seek new customers in the East, and China has become one of the biggest customers of Saudi oil.

The Sinification policy and the BRI

In line with its “Sinification” policy, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to purge the East Turkestan region from the so-called non-Chinese elements including Uighurs, Islam, and Mosques. This is hardly a new policy, as it can be traced back to the Qing dynasty, when East Turkestan was annexed by China and renamed Xinjiang, meaning “new frontier.” Yet, when communists came to power in 1949, they tried to engineer the masses and change the demographics of the region on an industrial scale. By doing so, they have managed to decrease the population of Uighurs in East Turkestan from 80 percent to the current 45 percent of all residents.

The systematic influx and planned mass resettlement of Han Chinese is ever increasing, while, on the other hand, the indigenous Uighur population is decreasing and they are becoming a minority in their own ancestral lands so that the central government can comfortably exploit its rich minerals and use this geopolitically important province in order to realize President Xi Jinping’s ambitious multibillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been called a “Chinese Marshall Plan.”

However, many observers believe that this Sinification policy could backfire, as it has the potential to incite Muslim anger in the region. For example, Pakistan, as a major ally of the Chinese government, is the first Islamic country to officially condemn the Muslim crackdown. Kazakhstan has objected to Beijing’s mistreatment of the Kazakh minority as well. China’s worst nightmare is when such condemnations could put the transport of energy and commodity to and from China through Muslim countries in Central Asia at risk. This would jeopardize Beijing’s “Chinese Century” dream and its megaprojects within the BRI initiative, as the country is becoming increasingly dependent on expanding beyond its borders in order to export its goods and import energy (almost inclusively from Muslim nations) and raw materials.

Ahmad Hashemi
Ahmad Hashemi is an Iranian freelance journalist and a senior expert in the Middle East region and global geopolitical trends. He has a bachelor's and a master's degree in politics from the University of Tehran. He is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in the Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, located in Washington D.C. metropolitan area. On Twitter: @MrAhmadHashemi


June 2019
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