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Wang Yi at OIC shows China’s deep inroad into the Muslim world

Muslim countries are authoritative and feel threatened by democracies because of interventionist policies. Beijing took the advantage of these conditions.

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The presence of Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi as ‘special guest’ in the 48th Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Pakistan on 22 and 23 March, comes at the time when more than a million Uyghur Muslims are in concentration camps in China. The Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang are facing “genocide” and cultural aggression from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Wang not only used this occasion to push CCP’s narrative of how well Muslim minorities in China are treated, but also said, “China and the Islamic world both enjoy a profound history, seek similar values, and share historic missions”. Wang also thanked the Muslim world for its unwavering support at the United Nations and assured US $400 billion as investment in different projects in Muslim countries under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Following on the heels of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution, recognising ‘Islamophobia’ as a global threat, Islamophobia remained one of the core issues of 48th CFM. However, except the reference made by the Turkish Foreign Minister on the problems of Uyghur Muslims, most powerful members of the OIC remained silent on the Uyghur Muslims’ fate in Xinjiang.


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Uyghur Muslims and suppression by CCP

Ever since Xinjiang became part of China in 1949, the cultural aggression, forced demographic change, and exploitation of indigenous resources remained the CCP’s only objective. The Chinese Han population grew from meagre 5 percent to 40 percent, while the Uyghur population fell from 80 percent to 45.8 percent. Most of the Uyghur Muslims are working in the primary sector, whilst secondary and tertiary sectors are dominated by the Hans. This growing disparity gave rise to heightened ethnic discord, culminated in ethnic riots of 2009. Furthermore, it increased the centrifugal tendencies.

Xinjiang’s security, social cohesion, and Sinicisation gained greater significance for the CCP after the BRI’s commencement. In 2014, Chinese President, Xi Jinping launched the ‘strike hard campaign’ and advocated the use of “weapons of the people’s democratic dictatorship” without “any hesitation or wavering” against the Uyghurs. Chen Quanguo, a solider-turned-politician, known for his anti-minorities policies in Tibet, was sent to Xinjiang in 2016. Chen, an ethnic policy innovator, quickly rolled out the securitisation strategy within a year and made Xinjiang the most militarised zone in world.

CCP spent US $700 million since 2017 to construct 1,200 detention camps across Xinjiang. More than 1 million Uyghur Muslims were sent to detention centres for “offences,” including “wearing a veil,” growing “a long beard,” and violating the government’s family planning policy. Beijing has also resorted to DNA profiling, blood sampling, fingerprinting, and voice sampling and has increased vigilance through technical intelligence analysis. Furthermore, it banned prayers and demolished mosques. Muslim women were raped and torched in these detention centres. Natural population growth of Uyghur Muslims fell by 84 percent, from 1.6 percent to 0.26 percent in the Uyghur-dominated regions of the south due to forced sterilisations, abortions, and the implantation of contraceptive devices through state-sponsored campaigns. The detention camps also became the site for illegal organ harvesting, mass rapes, and forced labour during the pandemic. Offering namaz (prayers) became an illegal religious activity since 2017 and Uyghur Muslims are fined for performing this essential religious duty.


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Hand in glove in the suppression

Political gimmicks apart, the OIC from last one decade or so, has maintained utmost silence. At times, it has also endorsed the prosecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, especially under President Xi Jinping’s rule. The US, the EU, and other like-minded democracies have, on the other hand, deplored China’s actions against Uyghur Muslims and declared these repressive policies as “genocide”. They have also enacted laws to impose sanctions on CCP officials, banned imports from Xinjiang, and diplomatically boycotted the Beijing Winter Olympics. From 2019, the democratic countries highlighted the Chinese human rights violations at global forums like OHCHR. However, all OIC countries including Pakistan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, and Kuwait commended Beijing’s efforts in “protecting human and promoting human rights through development” on the same global forums. Pakistan that championed to be the real guardian of the Muslim world has time and again even silenced the Pakistani organisations and individuals who have tried to highlight the miseries of Uyghur Muslims. In December 2019, Shahid Afridi, a former star cricketer wrote a tweet on atrocities committed by China on Uyghur Muslims and suggested Imran Khan to speak up against it. However, he was forced to delete his tweet by the Pakistani authorities.

Other OIC countries too have not only endorsed the Chinese anti-Muslim policies and rising Islamophobia within China, but at times become partners in crime. Pakistan, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Tukey, Qatar, Egypt, and even Afghanistan have detained or extradited Uyghurs back to China. Since 2017, more than 682 Uyghurs have been detained by these Muslim countries silently and been sent back to China.

The Muslim countries are authoritative and feel threatened by democracies because of interventionist policies. Beijing took the advantage of these prevailing conditions, especially after the Arab Spring, and stressed on a non-interventionist policy focused on upholding territorial integrity and sovereignty. China also provided unconditional loans to these Muslim countries without accounting for factors such as human rights, rule of law, and other political and social concerns. Pakistan has received a US $62 billion loan for infrastructure under BRI’s crown jewel, CPEC. Beijing has also used energy diplomacy and has emerged as the top crude oil export destination for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and Oman. Aside from this, Beijing has also propagated its own narrative of Islam through the Chinese Islamic Association (CIA), an apex government body to look after Islamic discourse and religious activity.

The ironic presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister at the OIC meet in Pakistan in this scenario has exposed the parochial interests of Muslim countries. The suppression of Uyghur diaspora and exiles has exposed the double standards of the forum and has showcased the inroads made by CCP in the Muslim world.

Ayjaz Wani is a Research Fellow at ORF Mumbai. He is currently working on the project: “Kashmir Conflict, Managing Perceptions and Prospectus for Peace.” Views are personal.

The article first appeared on the Observer Research Foundation website.

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