Alwaght- Two days after 22 Western countries wrote a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the Chinese crackdown on the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region in the northwest of the country, 37 countries have written to the UN supporting Beijing measures and human rights achievements in the same region.
The conflict of stances between two blocs of countries has given rise to a question: What side’s stance is close to the reality and what countries have been more politically conservative in their position?
Xinjiang province has a population of about 20 million, a majority of which is Sunni Muslim Uyghurs. The region was added to the Chinese territory in 1949. In June last year, Leeham news, citing relatives of under pressure Uyghurs, reported that hundreds of Muslim Uyghurs are held in “re-education camps” to be assimilated into the Chinese culture. In September of the same year, the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for the release of over 1 million Uyghurs held in internment camps. China initially denied the camps' existence, arguing that the held people are religious radicals who are held in detention centers to be re-educated. As time went by, news of children and women torture emanated from the internment centers.
The Guardian newspaper reported that Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked Beijing for access to information on the situation of the Uyghurs in the camps amid worrisome reports of torture. But Chinese officials rejected to respond affirmatively. The Guardian further reported that Xinjiang suffered from a local government of policing and surveillance crackdown and checkpoints and security cameras are present everywhere. The people of the region are detained when they travel abroad, hold religious ceremonies, or even refrain from talking in the official Chinese language.
Lack of international consensus
A year after the revelations about the Chinese re-education camps and torture of the Uyghurs, the world countries have failed to unite their voice to condemn Beijing’s actions. This failure should be blamed on a couple of reasons:
1. Xinjiang is a strategic region on the way of the Chinese government’s project “one belt, one road.” It is also rich with mining sources, oil, and gas. A major part of the 3000-kilometer Kazakhstan-China pipeline that is planned to transfer 20 million tons of oil annually from the Caspian Sea state to China passes from the Xinjiang region. Part of the project, Atasu-Aoashenkou Line, was officially launched in 2005. So, Beijing through economic interests assimilation has managed to take to its side many of countries.
2. One main goal of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is fighting terrorism and radicalism. China has managed to use this goal which is also written in the organization’s manifesto to win the advocacy of the member states. In the pro-Chinese letter, the signatories wrote that China has taken some measures to fight terrorism and eliminate radicalism in the Xinjiang region, among them setting up re-education centers. Russia, Tajikistan, Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Myanmar, Pakistan, and the Philippines as well as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain, to whose oil China is a major buyer, were among the letter signatories. Turkey, which is in a course of developing trade ties with China, has treated the case conservatively. In his early July visit to China, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Xinjiang region. “Uyghurs are living happily in Xinjiang”, Chinese media reported him as saying as he criticized the media “propaganda targeting China.”
3. The critics of China have major trade ties with China and are afraid of Beijing’s punitive measures. They stopped short of a condemnation letter instead of a push for a UN resolution. Britain, France, Japan, New Zealand, and Canada were among them.
4. There are two different voices among the people of Xinjiang, preventing a united voice transferring their message to the world. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement, founded in 1993, emphasizes the Islamic identity of the region. On the other side stands the World Uyghur Congress, a party founded in 2005 and insists that its protest movement is not religious and has no affiliations to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. The leaders of the WUC are based in the US and it is the efforts of this movement that drew support of the 22 Western countries. The Uyghurs cause provides Washington with an appropriate pretext to press China amid the trade war and South China Sea tensions with Beijing.
5. According to reports, a couple of years ago Uyghur members joined the ISIS terrorist group and also Taliban in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This provides China with a big propaganda pretext to justify its clampdown on the ethnic minority.
6. China in general adopts a policy of preventing Uyghurs of inclination to radicalism through lingual and cultural transformation and also demographic change marked by the migration of Chinese ethnic groups to Xinjiang. The West uses this as an anti-Beijing pressure tool but rejects to take in the Muslims of West Asia who are displaced by war in their countries. President Donald Trump’s administration, for example, places a ban on nationals of some of the Muslim countries and deports the Latin Americas living in the US for years.
This drives to the conclusion that the Western countries treat the human rights conditions in the Xinjiang region politically and propagandistically. This way of treatment draws criticism from many Muslim countries that find the approach unconstructive.