As details and personal accounts continue to emerge from Xinjiang—where up to a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being detained in extralegal re-education camps—China has faced international condemnation, including from Muslims in India and Bangladesh. While trade incentives had kept the Islamic world largely silent, that is increasingly changing. At the Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Page, Eva Dou, and Saeed Shah report:
In Kazakhstan, many people were also outraged, and local lawyers and activists say hundreds of people have lobbied their government for help, following the detention of several Kazakh citizens and many more ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals in the camps.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that claims a million members in 40 countries, called on Muslims this month to be wary of Chinese investment and to oppose Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
On Saturday, the group accused Pakistan’s government of betraying the Uighurs for the sake of China’s infrastructure program in the country, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC.
The backlash in the Islamic world is more troubling for China as it could rally international support for the Uighurs and foment opposition to its “Belt and Road” infrastructure building initiative. [Source]
For more on the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, see prior coverage via CDT.
Protest is also emerging from a group of businessmen in Pakistan who are traveling to Beijing to lobby the Pakistani embassy for the release of their Uyghur wives who are interned in re-education camps. Channel News Asia provides further details:
Last month’s election of cricketing legend and firebrand nationalist Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister has fed the expectations of many for him to deliver on promises to create jobs, build an Islamic welfare state and restore the country’s image abroad.
Mian Shahid Ilyas, a businessman in Lahore who has been collecting details of cases and seeking government support, said he was optimistic the new government would help.
Ilyas said he had confirmed details of 38 cases but believed there were more than 300 similar cases of Pakistani husbands whose wives and children, most of them Uighurs, had been stuck in Xinjiang for more than a year, in camps or confined to homes.
The handful of businessmen, including Baig, is travelling to China in groups of twos and threes, to avoid raising suspicion, parking themselves at the embassy to make their case, he said. [Source]
In a meeting with Chinese ambassador Yao Jin on September 19, Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri asked China to tone down restrictions on Xinjiang Muslims, and proposed sending a delegation of Pakistani scholars to Xinjiang to provide assistance. Beijing has since “categorically rejected” such reports, claiming instead that Xinjiang “enjoyed social stability, sound economic development and harmonious coexistence among ethnic groups.”
More Turkic Muslims are coming forward to describe how their family members are being detained in Xinjiang. In one report by Yanan Wang and Dake Kang of AP, an ethnic Uyghur who is now exiled in Turkey describes how the Chinese state placed four of her young children who are still in Xinjiang into a de facto orphanage, despite the fact that she and her husband are both alive. Additionally, Amnesty International has released new testimonies, while demanding accountability from the Chinese government:
The Chinese government must not be allowed to continue this vicious campaign against ethnic minorities in northwest China. Governments across the world must hold the Chinese authorities to account for the nightmare unfolding in the XUAR,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia Director.
“Families have suffered enough. Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown. They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
[…] Bota [Kussaiyn, an ethnic Kazakh student studying at Moscow State University] told Amnesty: “My father is an ordinary citizen. We were a happy family before he was detained. We laughed together. We can’t laugh anymore, and we can’t sleep at night. We live in fear every day. It has done great harm to my mother. We don’t know where he is. We don’t even know if he’s still alive. I want to see my father again.”
Many relatives and friends abroad report feelings of guilt, because it seems to be precisely these overseas connections that in many cases are causing their loved ones in the XUAR to fall under suspicion. The authorities accuse them of having ties to outside groups the Chinese government alleges promote “extremist” religious views or plot “terrorist activity”. [Source]
Spearheading the crackdown in Xinjiang is Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who previously directed mass crackdowns in Tibet. U.S. lawmakers are currently considering sanctioning him under the Global Magnitsky Act. Bloomberg News details Chen’s rise and how his heavy-handed police tactics could bleed over beyond Xinjiang:
But in China, Chen has been a rising star. His actions in Xinjiang, along with demonstrations of loyalty to President Xi Jinping, won him a promotion last year to the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo — making him one of China’s 25 most powerful officials. In 2023, the 62-year-old Chen may be considered for a spot on its supreme Standing Committee, which has seven members.
Chen’s ascendance is bigger than one man. It’s fueling concern among Western governments about whether Xinjiang is being used to test a new model of authoritarian rule that could transform the way the country is governed, and potentially be exported around the region. It risks a new front to growing U.S.-China tensions that already span trade, cyber-security, and a battle for influence across much of Asia-Pacific as Xi seeks to make his nation a global superpower by 2050.
[…] Xinjiang also sits at the center of Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has promised more than $100 billion to reconstruct ancient trading routes from China to Eurasia. Xi needed it under firm control, and in August 2016 he put Chen in charge of the region to implement a policy to “strike first” against domestic terrorism and unrest.
Chen immediately set about replicating the system that brought him success in Tibet. He sent Communist Party officials to Uighur villages, created a network of checkpoints and facial-recognition cameras, and shuttered mosques in an effort to “Sinify” Islam in the region. According to one Chinese-language profile, Chen drilled Xinjiang’s security forces using a technique perfected in Tibet: timing police to the second on responding to emergency calls. [Source]
While the Belt and Road Initiative may have highlighted Xinjiang as a key strategic gateway, Chen’s practices of mass internment have dulled what were once vibrant centers of trade with Central Asia, potentially jeopardizing the initiative’s success.
For more on the ongoing crisis in Xinjiang, read more coverage via CDT, or listen to the Little Red Podcast’s interview with members of the Uyghur community in Australia.