After Leaks Shed More Light on China’s Abuses in Xinjiang, Islamic Bloc Remains Silent

Patrick Goodenough | November 25, 2019 | 11:14pm EST
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A giant screen beams images of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the city of Kashgar, Xinjiang, in June 2019.  (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
A giant screen beams images of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the city of Kashgar, Xinjiang, in June 2019. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has raised eyebrows this year for its silence over the mass incarceration of minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. Days after the publication of leaked documents laying out the scale and nature of the abuses, that silence continues.

Not only has the leadership of the bloc of Islamic nations made no public statement of concern about the situation in Xinjiang, some of its most prominent member-states have signed up to statements at the U.N. praising China for its treatment of the Uighurs and other minorities there.

According to Western governments and human rights campaigners, China has incarcerated more than a millions Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other minority Muslims in indoctrination camps in Xinjiang.

The OIC describes its aim as endeavoring “to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.”

Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, last week characterized the communist government’s actions as nothing less than an “effort to destroy Islam in China.”

“They’re trying to wipe out the Islamic faith in China – not necessarily the population, they’re just trying to really get it out of them through these intense training camp programs that they’re running,” he told reporters on Thursday.

When the allegations first emerged China denied them, then as criticism mounted it changed tack, acknowledging the existence of the camps, but describing them as “vocational education” centers designed to deradicalize Muslims as part of its campaign against terrorism and extremism.

The New York Times last weekend published 403 pages of leaked Communist Party documents, including official directives and internal speeches by President Xi Jinping and other officials.

In internal documents in 2017, the region’s Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo ordered officials, repeatedly, to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

Directives ordered the detention of anyone displaying signs of religious radicalism, “such as wearing long beards, giving up smoking or drinking, studying Arabic and praying outside mosques,” the Times reported.

Documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and published in recent days by media outlets including the BBC, included a 2017 memo from Xinjiang’s deputy party chief, instructing camp administrators to prevent escapes, oversee an intrusive surveillance regime, punish “behavioral violations,” “promote repentance and confession,” and prioritize the teaching of Mandarin.

 “The students should have a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed,” the BBC quoted the memo as saying.

Queries sent to the OIC secretariat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, brought no response by press time.

‘We’re too small … This will hurt us too much’

Even before the latest disclosures the OIC’s decision not to speak out has been striking.

The organization routinely opines on situations affecting Muslims around the world, but a search on its website shows the most recent statement voicing concern for Uighurs was issued in June 2015 – long before ongoing crackdown began.

A meeting of OIC foreign ministers. (Photo: OIC)
A meeting of OIC foreign ministers. (Photo: OIC)

Last March, OIC foreign ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi included in their lengthy declarations a single paragraph on China, saying the OIC “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens; and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.”

Last July, 36 U.N. member-states signed a letter praising China’s policies in Xinjiang; more than half of them were OIC members.

Again last month, 54 countries put their names to a statement “commend[ing] China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights,” and echoing Beijing’s talking points on Xinjiang. Twenty-six of them were OIC members.

In his comments last week, Brownback touched on countries’ reluctance to speak out, saying that that up to now, “people have been very scared of China.”

“And the many small countries – and they’ll tell us this privately – are just saying look, we’re too small and we’ll – this will hurt us too much,” he said. “And so they’ve not made comment.”

China is the leading trading partner of at least 20 of the 57 OIC members, some of whom are now cooperating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a giant infrastructure program which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called “bribe-fueled debt-trap diplomacy.”

‘Clumsy patchwork and distortion’

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accused the Times of having “used clumsy patchwork and distortion to hype up the so-called internal documents and smear China's counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts.”

Without addressing the reported abuses themselves, Geng referred again to “vocational education and training work,” and repeated Beijing’s case that the number of terror attacks in the province had dropped to zero in the past three years “thanks to the preventive counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts.”

After the second lot of leaked documents appeared, Geng on Monday repeated the “smear” charge, and declared, again, that “Xinjiang affairs are China’s internal affairs.”

In an editorial Monday, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times lumped the reporting with other recent Western “attacks” on China, including criticism of the tense situation in Hong Kong, security concerns relating to the Chinese tech giant Huawei, and U.S. officials’ criticisms of the BRI.

“The most effective way to counter U.S. public opinion war against China is to raise our voices while doing our own things well,” the paper said. “We must strengthen our ability to expose slander and Western lies.”

See also:

Religious Freedom Envoy Dismayed Islamic Countries Won’t Condemn China’s Abuse of Uighur Muslims  (Sept. 24, 2019)

Islamic Bloc Challenged Over its Silence on Uighurs: ‘If They Truly Care About Muslims …’ (Jul. 3, 2019)


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