Saudi Prince MBS Defends Muslim Reeducation Camps in Communist China

By Dimitri Simes | February 27, 2019 | 1:53pm EST
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad
Bin Salman. (Getty Images)

( -- During his Feb. 22 visit to Communist China, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) signed $28 billion in deals and defended Beijing’s detention of an estimated one million Uighur Muslims in reeducation camps as legitimate “anti-terrorism and de-extremization” measures.

The polarizing Saudi royal met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday, Feb. 22. The two leaders concluded agreements for 35 joint projects valued at $28 billion, the most prominent a $10 billion oil deal. Beyond economics, Riyadh announced that it would incorporate Mandarin into its curriculum for schools and universities alike.

Mohammad Bin Salman also made headlines for his comments about China’s detention camps for Uighur Muslims. According to the Telegraph, the Saudi Crown Prince justified the Chinese Communist Party’s controversial policy.

Satellite image of reported Muslim detention camp in Communist China. (YouTube, BBC)

"China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremization work for its national security,” he reportedly told Chinese state television.

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group that primarily reside in China’s western Xinjiang province. In 2014, the Chinese government initiated the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism,” which aimed to forcibly assimilate the Uighurs.

Reeducation internment camps are a key part of the campaign.

A United Nations human rights panel in August 2018 estimated that Beijing has placed nearly one million Uighurs in detention camps. Survivors of these camps revealed to The Globe and Mail that Xinjiang authorities forced prisoners to abandon their religious faith and pledge loyalty to Chinese leadership. One woman recalled being made to chant, “My soul is infected with serious diseases. There is no God. I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Communist Party.”

Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, told CNS that the Saudi Crown Prince avoided condemning the Chinese leadership’s campaign against the Uighurs because he does not want his own human rights record scrutinized.

Communist China's authoritarian president, Xi Jinping.  (Getty Images)

“MBS does not denounce China's harsh treatment of the Uighurs because he does not want to be criticized for his own harsh treatment of Saudi political opponents and dissidents,” said Pillar. “He may lose a few points in the Muslim world for his posture, but that is much less important to him than sustaining and justifying his own authoritarian rule.”  

Riyadh also has strategic incentives to refrain from criticizing Beijing. China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner and its economic significance for the Kingdom is poised to grow. While in China, Mohammad Bin Salman voiced his desire to merge Vision 2030 – his signature plan to move the Saudi economy away from dependence on oil – with China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, reported the Saudi owned Arab News.  

“The Crown Prince's outreach to China is part of a Saudi effort to diversify the Kingdom's international relationships away from over-dependence on the United States,” Chas W. Freeman Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, explained to

Freeman views Riyadh’s pivot to Beijing as part of a larger strategic shift from West to East for the Kingdom. “Saudi Arabia is looking not just to China but to India and other rising powers, as well as Russia, as an offset to its worsened ties with America,” he said.

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