Tempers Flare as US, China Clash at UN Over Activist Beijing Calls ‘Terrorist’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 24, 2018 | 4:21am EDT
U.S. Ambassador Kelley Currie speaks during an NGO Committee meeting in New York this week. (Screen capture: U.N. Webcast)

(CNSNews.com) – A U.S. delegate lashed out at the U.N. this week at an attempt by China to punish a non-governmental organization based on its ties to a Uighur activist whom Beijing accuses of terrorism.

Ambassador Kelley Currie bristled at the suggestion that the U.S. would allow entry to the country of an “actual terrorist” at a time when American troops were fighting jihadist terrorism abroad.

During a meeting of the U.N.’s NGO Committee, China called for the revoking of official accreditation for a German-based NGO called the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), citing its links to Dolkun Isa, the president of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

China was angry when STP put forward Isa as its representative to participate in a U.N. forum on indigenous issues in New York in April. (At China’s behest, Isa was reportedly twice prevented from entering the U.N. premises to participate in the forum, until the U.S. and Germany intervened. He experienced similar harassment at last year’s forum.)

The WUC is not a U.N.-accredited NGO, but the STP is, and China is now demanding that it lose that status.

At the NGO Committee meeting, China’s delegate accused Isa – an ethnic Uighur with German citizenship – of having “masterminded and carried out various terrorist activities inside China including bombing and hijacking and assassinations.”

Currie responded icily.

For years, she said, the Chinese government has made accusations against Isa and WUC, and despite U.S. requests has at no point provided “actionable intelligence that would indicate that what they are saying is true.”

She noted that the U.S. has issued Isa with a 10--year, multiple-entry visa and that U.S. officials routinely meet with him.

“If Mr. Isa were, in fact, an actual terrorist responsible for the many acts that the Chinese government has accused him and his organization of, does anyone in this room seriously believe – we have troops on the line, young American men and women on the line in Syria right now, fighting against ISIS and jihadist extremists.”

“Do you seriously think we would be inviting this individual into this country and giving him free rein to travel about it?” she asked. “Give me a break.”

Currie said Beijing was clearly “using its position on this committee, and its friends in this committee, to engage in a reprisal against an individual.”

China evidently wants to punish the STP, she said, for allowing “an individual who is silenced in China – and a whole community, frankly, that is silenced in China – to speak out on behalf of the rights of that community.”

‘Personal attack against the U.S. ambassador’

China’s retort came in the form of a personal dig. Describing Currie’s statement as “passionate” and “emotional,” Beijing’s representative said he believed that before she became an ambassador she had worked with a U.S. think tank on a project aimed at helping separatists in Xinjiang – “and I suspect that she has close contact with those people.”

Currie did not respond, but another member of the U.S. delegation, senior policy advisor Kelly Razzouk, did.

“I think we’ve just hit a new low in the committee,” she began. “To launch a personal attack against the U.S. ambassador is completely inappropriate.”

Razzouk added that she has “never seen such outright disrespect in all of my years in the NGO Committee.”

(Currie was formerly a senior fellow at Project 2049 Institute, a think-tank focusing on Asia policy. She has also held senior policy positions at the State Department and worked for the International Republican Institute.)

The committee chairman ruled that the committee would discuss with the STP by Friday the concerns raised by China.

‘Police state’

The NGO Committee is one of the most controversial entities at the world body. Its 19 members largely hold the power to grant or deny official accreditation to human rights and other civil society groups, and for years it has been accused of politically-motivated decision making, with repressive governments closing ranks to keep out NGOs considered troublesome.

Its current membership includes just six countries ranked “free” by Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog.

At the NGO Committee and elsewhere in the U.N. system, China has for years used its clout to block the participation of individuals or groups whose stances challenge the communist regime’s positions, particularly relating to sensitive territorial sovereignty issues like Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang (East Turkestan).

Some ten million Muslim Uighurs live in western China’s vast and mineral-rich Xinjiang province where according to Western governments and human rights groups they face a campaign of sustained persecution.

Just this month the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said that Xinjiang “increasingly resembles a police state,” citing a crackdown on human rights and religious freedom, including mass detentions in “re-education” camps.

“The Chinese government’s restrictions on Uighur Muslims are an attempt to assimilate a besieged religious and ethnic minority,” said USCIRF chairman Daniel Mark.

The Uighurs briefly enjoyed independence as East Turkestan in the 1930s and 40s, before the area fell under communist Chinese rule in 1949.

Some Uighur separatists have links to jihadist terrorist groups, but Beijing has long sought to associate all Uighurs advocating greater autonomy or independence with terrorism.

The State Department’s most recent country reports on terrorism said that China’s counterterrorism efforts “are sometimes difficult to distinguish from suppression of individuals and groups, most often ethnic Uighurs, who the Chinese Communist Party deems politically subversive.”

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