Muslim countries quiet on Uyghur abuses in China, inc Turkey academic says

There is one group missing from countries condemning Chinese abuses against its Uyghur Muslim citizens and that is Muslim countries, said Kelly A. Hammond, a specialist in East Asian history at the University of Arkansas.

While the U.S. Congress and the United Nations have condemned the treatment and detention of Uyghurs in China, Turkey and other Muslim nations have remained largely silent. 

Hammond said nations that rely on Chinese aid along its Belt and Road Initiative to improve routes to its west such as Pakistan and Indonesia may not want to damage relations with Beijing. 

“But even in places like Turkey, once an adamant and vocal supporter of the Uyghur diaspora, and Saudi Arabia, there has been no condemnation,” Hammond wrote for the Hoover Institution, a U.S. think tank.

Turkey and Central Asia countries see China as a counterweight to Russian influence in the region, one potential reason they would not want to condemn Beijing, Hammond said. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has what she called a narrow vision of Islam that did not include the Uyghurs.

Hammond said a coordinated political response from Muslim states would be an effective way to pressure the Chinese government, which she said had illegally detained roughly one million Uyghurs since 2009, thanks to new surveillance technology and the muted response from the international community.

Ten million Uyghurs live in China, almost all in the northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang. The minority ethnic group has long resisted Chinese assimilation policies. In the post 9/11-era, Beijing has waged a campaign to cast Uyghurs as Islamic terrorists and jihadists, Hammond said, despite little evidence of links to terrorism. 

Since ethnic riots in Xinjiang in 2009, China has increased the police presence in the region and established what it calls re-education camps for detained Uyghurs.

“There are now estimated to be upwards of 10 percent of the Uyghur population, or 1 million Uyghurs, in these camps which have been compared to Soviet-era gulags, or concentration camps by foreign journalists and observers in the media,” Hammond said.