past three years China’s government, citing national-security concerns, has run
relentless campaigns against the culture and religion of the Uighur people, 11m
Muslims who speak a Turkic language and live in Xinjiang, China’s
north-westernmost corner. Mosques have been shut. Men are forbidden to grow
beards, women may not wear head coverings and children are barred from prayers.
Most troubling are the growing details emerging about a network of detention
facilities, which Chinese officials call vocational-training centres but which
look for all the world like internment camps. Credible reports say these are
holding at least 1m people—mostly Uighurs but also Chinese people of Kazakh and
Kyrgyz ethnicity—in extra-judicial detention.
middle of 2018, Chinese diplomats managed to keep international criticism of
the camps in check. At that point America’s vice-president, Mike Pence, raised
concerns about “round-the-clock political indoctrination”. Since then, the
Chinese have lost their battle to persuade foreign countries that Xinjiang is
purely an internal matter, of no concern to anyone else. But they have turned
it into an issue that polarises diplomatic opinion. That polarisation has now
burst into the open.
8th, 22 countries signed a letter to the un Human Rights Council, calling on
China to end the “mass arbitrary detention” of Uighurs and other Muslims, and to
allow international observers access to detention camps. This was the first
concerted international condemnation of Chinese actions in Xinjiang.
Signatories included most European countries, Canada, Japan and Australia but
not the United States (see map), which withdrew from the council in 2018.
However, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, later called China’s treatment of
the Uighurs “the stain of the century”.
37 countries, among them Russia and Saudi Arabia, responded with a letter of
their own, defending China’s policies on the grounds of fighting terrorism.
Some signatories were anti-Western autocracies which can be relied upon to
rally round anyone that the West criticises. They include Russia and Venezuela.
Other signatories are Western allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which
oppose what might be called the global human-rights regime. They lock up plenty
of their own opponents on security grounds. Still others are beneficiaries of
Chinese investment, such as Pakistan and Laos, which cannot easily afford to
bite the hand that feeds them.
intriguing, however are Gulf States which back China for a combination of
defence, economic and even religious reasons. The United Arab Emirates, for
example, cannot get the drones it wants from America, so is buying China’s Wing
Loong 2 drone. (Its de facto ruler was in Beijing this week.) It signed the
letter, along with 19 other members of the Organisation of Islamic
Co-operation, an international group of mostly Muslim-majority states. In 2018
China signed construction and investment contracts worth $28bn in the Middle
East, a region that is struggling to attract foreign investment elsewhere. And
some Gulf states, such as the uae and Saudi Arabia, are trying to fight
jihadist extremism at home by encouraging more modern forms of Islam. They seem
receptive to China’s claim that it is merely attempting to modernise Uighur
beliefs (though in reality Chinese actions go far beyond that).
attempt to divide international opinion about Xinjiang has worked so far. But,
as more details leak out about the region’s camps, Muslim leaders are beginning
to come under domestic pressure to defend their co-religionists. One day, they
may find it harder to kowtow.
Source: The Economist