(CNSNews.com) – Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the plight of Muslims in hotspots around the world, but he was silent on what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called “the stain of the century” – China’s mass detention of more than one million minority Muslims in internment camps.
Of other leaders who spoke at the U.N. in New York on Tuesday, six were from Islamic bloc countries. But neither Jordan’s king, the emir of Qatar, nor the presidents of Egypt, Kazakhstan, the Maldives, or Niger, had anything to say about the repression of Uighurs in China’s far-west Xinjiang province.
Turkey, however, is the Muslim country with arguably the strongest link to Xinjiang: Uighurs are members of a Turkic ethic group with historic and ethno-linguistic ties to the Turks. The largest exiled Uighur community outside of Central Asia is in Turkey, around 35,000 in number.
In his speech, Turkey’s Islamist president referred to crises affecting Muslims in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Qatar, Afghanistan, Burma, and disputed Kashmir. Erdogan also cited separatist disputes in Cyprus and Azerbaijan and expressed concern about the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and the death in custody of former Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi.
Erdogan dedicated a sizeable part of his address to the Palestinian issue, claiming that the “Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation have become one of the places where injustice prevails the most.”
He said Muslims were the group most subjected to hate speech and discrimination.
But, like the other Muslim leader who took the podium, Erdogan said nothing about the discrimination faced by Muslims in western China.
Last July, 36 U.N. member-states signed the letter praising China’s policies in Xinjiang. More than half of them were Muslim-majority states, including such prominent Islamic nations as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt.
On Tuesday it was left to the United States – which has made religious freedom a key theme at this year’s General Assembly opening session – and a few Western allies to put the issue of the Uighurs onto the agenda in New York, with a panel discussion on “the Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang.”
The event was moderated by U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback, and the panel included a survivor of the Chinese internment camps and relatives of missing or detained family members.
“Speakers called on members of the international community to speak up and urge China to change course, release all those in the camps, and demonstrate respect for the human rights of all its people,” the State Department said in a statement afterwards.
Earlier in the day Beijing responded to the Xinjiang-themed event by accusing the U.S. government of “using religious freedom as a cover to wantonly criticize other sovereign countries by disrespecting and distorting facts.”
“Such attempts that take advantage of the U.N. platform to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs violate the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter and run counter to the U.N. spirit for dialogue and cooperation,” an official said in a statement released by the foreign ministry.
“Therefore they will produce no effect whatsoever. Nor will they get support from the majority of countries.”
China says the camps in Xinjiang are “vocational education and training centers” used to “deradicalize” Muslims as part of its campaign against terrorism and extremism. The U.S. and other critics say they don’t buy that.
“They’re kind of running out of explanations, right, as this evidence [of mass incarceration] continues to grow,” U.S. assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs David Stilwell told a briefing in New York after Tuesday’s event.
“The typical explanation has to do with countering extremism, and then terrorism,” he said. “If you look at what’s going on in Hong Kong, they’ve also been using the word ‘terrorism’ a lot with respect to people who are simply protesting the loss of the liberties that they used to have …”