International reactions to Chinese detention of Muslims remain mixed

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan co hosts an event on The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang in NYC Sept 24 2019 Credit State Department photo by Ron Przysucha Public Domain US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan co-hosts an event on 'The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang' in New York City, Sept. 24, 2019. | State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/public domain.

As China's detention of Muslims of the country's northwest in re-education camps continues, few countries are openly denouncing the practice in the face of the clout of the world's second-largest economy.

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a region in China's northwest that is roughly the size of Iran.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.

During a Sept. 23 UN event on religious freedom, US vice president Mike Pence mentioned that "the Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than a million Uighurs in the Muslim population," and a fact sheet issued by the White House said the administration "is deeply concerned" for the interned Uighurs.

And the US State Department hosted a panel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Sept. 24 to draw attention to the "human rights crisis in Xinjiang," where partipants heard first-hand accounts of repression of Muslim groups in Xinjiang.

John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state, said at the panel that "The UN must seek the immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China's rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief."

"We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop," Sullivan stated.

The panel was co-sponsored by Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and in attendence were representatives of more than 20 non-governmental organizations and 30 UN member states, as well as the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Pakistan is among the few Muslim-majority countries to have warned against the escalating persecution of the Uighurs.

In September 2018 Noorul Haq Qadri, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, advised Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing that Beijing's crackdowns on Uighur activity would only fuel extremism, rather than mitigate it.

Earlier this year, the US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, said Islamic countries should be more vocal in criticizing China's mistreatment of the Uighurs.

"I have been disappointed that more Islamic countries have not spoken out. I know the Chinese have been threatening them and but you don't back down to somebody that does that. That just encourages more actions," Brownback said in an interview with The Guardian published June 10.

Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said earlier this year that "China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security," and that "Saudi Arabia respects and supports it and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China."

And according to The Guardian, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation passed a resolution in March praising China for "providing care to its Muslim citizens".

The Guardian also reported that Brownback "applauded Turkey for taking a outspoken approach."

In an article published Sept. 25 in the New York Times, Jane Perlez detailed China's success in encouraging other states to refrain from speaking about its internment camps for Muslims.

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Perlez wrote that during a recent visit to Beijing, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan "was largely silent" on the incarceration and forced assimilation of Muslims in Xinjiang, which she called "an about-face from a decade ago."

According to Perlez, China, "backed by its diplomatic and economic might … has largely succeeded in quashing criticism."

Perlez noted that China helped Turkey to secure a $3.6 billion loan last year, and that the prime minister of New Zealand – which sells much of its main exports to China – said that she brought up Xinjiang "privately" with Chinese president Xi Jinping when she visited Beijing.

The Times' Beijing bureau chief wrote that three EU diplomats visited Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang this year, during which "at one camp, the class sang the Communist Party anthem. As they did, one Uighur man caught the eye of a diplomat and held up his wrists as if clamped together by handcuffs."

During the Sept. 24 panel on the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, Sullivan stated that "China has hosted Potemkin tours in a failed attempt to prove … that its actions are undertaken in a humane manner."

"If there were nothing to hide, diplomats and independent investigators would be allowed to travel freely throughout Xinjiang, and for that matter, Tibet. We must ask ourselves: what is the Chinese Communist Party afraid of? What are they trying to hide?"

Sullivan concluded, saying, "I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have already joined us in standing up for the rights of the more than one million members of ethnic and religious minority groups the Chinese government is abusing. We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China's horrific campaign of repression."

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