TWO FACES OF CHINA 

COLUMN

-By RC Ganjoo

China’s Machiavellian policy for Muslims is like a carrot and stick from them. China’s influence in Pakistan is quite dominating, and in Afghanistan, it is very modest. China is concerned about Pakistan’s instability and the inability to control extremists. Beijing is afraid of Islamic radicals, inroads in the near future with the support of foreign forces to give a further fillip to separatist forces in Xinjiang.

Uighur, Kazak, Tajik, and Kyrgyz groups of Muslims belong to Turkic origin Muslims primarily live in Xinjiang. The area was formally annexed to China in 1884 and called Xinjiang. The Uyghurs maintained their religious identity throughout the long occupation by China and simultaneously kept their aspiration to become independent alive.

China experienced Muslim unrest in the latter half of the 19th century. The various Chinese governments’ attitude toward Muslims in China remained oscillated “between a policy of absorption and autonomy that resulted in hardship for the Muslims and their continued mistrust of the administrations.

Keeping the extremist and separatist threats to China’s territorial integrity under check, they have detained about eight hundred thousand to two million Uighurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region concentration camps, since April 2017. In March 2019, officially these camps were named as “vocational training centers,” Xinjiang’s governor, Shohrat Zakir described them as  Boarding Schools and after receiving the training they are allowed to leave the camps. But documents leaked in late 2019 proved how China government repress Uyghurs, keep them in camps and prevent them from leaving.

The world community has condemned China’s detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang. The UN human rights chief and other human rights organizations have also urged China to immediately shut down the camps and answer questions about disappeared Uighurs. European Union has also demanded to respect religious freedom and change its policies in Xinjiang.  But China has turned a deaf ear to everyone. In 2019, Turkey was the only Muslim-majority country to raise its voice in a UN Human Rights Council session to ensure “the full protection of the cultural identities of the Uighurs and other Muslims”. As far as the US is concerned it has no genuine interest in Uighur rights.

If the US was really concerned about defending Muslims in western China it would have been campaigning for  Uighur rights long before President Trump decided to launch his new Cold War. Washington has only raised the issue to advance is the position in its trade dispute with China

In 2011, behind attacks in Xinjiang, Uyghurs were held responsible and was also noticed that the terrorists involved were trained in Pakistan. The attackers were reported to belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Uyghur Islamist and anti-Chinese organization, which has some of its members hiding in Pakistan. The Islamic radicals issue has been disturbing the relations between Islamabad and Beijing. But the issue they talk about behind the closed doors and decide to deal with it covertly. Pakistan’s   Prime Minister Imran Khan when asked by media about the plight of fellow Muslims in China, “Frankly,” he said, “I don’t know much about that ” and consistently dodging the questions whenever asked on this issue. Because Pakistan wants to protect its trade, security and diplomatic relationship with China. In both cases, calculations about national interest have been taken more seriously than human rights. Beijing has been hushing up Pakistan’s link in terror attacks in Xinjiang, with purpose.

Surprisingly, many Muslim nations have maintained silence over the Uyghurs Muslim atrocities meted out to them in Xinjiang.  Because they prioritize their economic ties and strategic relationships with China, even many governments have ignored human rights abuses. When the role of liberator of Muslims, particularly the Pakistani Taliban, and other radical Sunni Pakistani organizations of Muslims are discussed in meetings, they never mentioned about the plight of Uyghurs.

Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat ul-Dawaa later president of political party Milli Muslim League gave a clean chit to Beijing that  Muslim citizens in  China are treated in a “moderate” way. Only radical Islamic outfits in Pakistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HUT), did raise its voice for Uyghurs. HUT is an international Muslim organization, known to be hostile to the Islamabad government.

(The author is a senior journalist)