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Why were the Uyghurs, victims of genocide, left alone? 

By Abdulhakim Idris

Since 1949, East Turkistan has been under Chinese Communist rule, marked by a relentless campaign aimed at eradicating Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other minority groups. The emergence of concentration camps in East Turkistan, first brought to global attention in 2017, serves as evidence of the Chinese communist regime’s genocidal actions against the Uyghur population. Regrettably, only 15 countries, all Western, have officially recognized the Uyghur Genocide, with no Muslim nation among them. It is striking that both Western nations and Muslim states have largely remained indifferent or aligned with China’s stance. This article aims to explore the reasons behind the international community’s apparent abandonment of the Uyghur plight.

Before delving into the reasons behind the international community’s silence on the Uyghur Genocide, it’s essential to address two key aspects. Firstly, understanding the significance of East Turkistan is crucial. Secondly, we must grasp the gravity of the genocide perpetrated by China in this region.

The paramount significance of East Turkistan lies in its geostrategic location. Acting as a vital juncture between China and the West, it serves as a pivotal point for the Chinese communist regime’s engagement with Western nations. Spanning one-sixth of China’s landmass, East Turkistan shares borders with Central Asian countries and serves as the nexus for trade routes extending to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), initiated in 2013, underscores China’s extensive projects in Central Asia, wherein countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are integral partners. China’s vested interest in these ventures aims to reshape the economic landscape of Central Asia and foster interdependence through infrastructure development. Central to this strategy are the projects traversing East Turkistan, with the region hosting three of the six economic corridors outlined in the BRI framework. Additionally, East Turkistan serves as a strategic conduit for six railway lines within the Eurasian Corridor, facilitating connectivity between China and Europe. Endowed with abundant energy resources and strategically positioned in northwest China, East Turkistan acts as a vital buffer zone, crucial for maintaining China’s geopolitical equilibrium. Furthermore, as a pivotal node along the land routes of the new Silk Roads, regional stability holds pivotal sway over China’s broader economic aspirations. Consequently, East Turkistan’s role transcends regional importance, significantly contributing to China’s global ambitions, particularly within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), amplifying the region’s geostrategic significance.

East Turkistan holds immense significance for China due to its abundant natural resources and strategic location. The region boasts extensive coal deposits nestled in the foothills of the Dark and Altai mountains, as well as around key cities like Urumqi, Kashgar, Khoten, Kuchar, and Karasheher. Moreover, areas such as Turfan, Aksu, and Ili harbor substantial gold reserves and copper mines. Notably, uranium deposits are scattered across five different regions, alongside other minerals like tin, ammonia, mercury, and lead found in various locales.

The vast Taklamakan Desert, covering a significant portion of East Turkistan, conceals rich oil reserves. Estimates suggest the total oil reserves within the Taklamakan, Turfan, and Dzungaria Basins exceed 160 billion cubic meters. Furthermore, East Turkistan’s vast agricultural lands are a notable asset. China, renowned as the world’s largest cotton exporter, heavily relies on Uyghur labor for cotton cultivation. Shockingly, reports indicate that 84 percent of China’s cotton exports are produced through the enslavement and forced labor of Uyghurs within their homeland.

Considering the brief overview provided above, it’s evident that the Chinese Communist Regime, driven by economic expansionism and aspirations for global dominance, persists in its ruthless genocide campaign in East Turkistan. Since 1949, the communist rule in China has wielded profound influence over East Turkistan through a series of oppressive policies and actions. Islam has been targeted, and assaults on the Uyghur community’s identity have been relentless. The region’s wealth has been plundered, crippling the economic prowess of the Uyghur populace. Concurrently, efforts to alter the demographic composition have seen the influx of Han Chinese settlers, diminishing the proportion of indigenous inhabitants. East Turkistan has served as a testing ground for nuclear experiments, resulting in grave environmental and health hazards. The “Cultural Revolution” witnessed the targeted assassination of thousands of Uyghur intellectuals and the imprisonment of many more. Restrictions on Islamic education have intensified, while the “Family Planning” policy since the 1980s has sought to curb Uyghur population growth. Severe curtailments on Uyghurs’ freedom of movement, coupled with arduous passport acquisition processes, further underscore the oppressive regime’s grip on the region.

Since 2017, the Chinese authorities have launched a series of draconian measures under the guise of the “Strike Hard” campaign, building concentration camps specifically targeting the Uyghur population and detaining millions of Uyghur and other Turkic peoples. Employing cutting-edge technology, the regime has imposed comprehensive surveillance, reminiscent of an Orwellian dystopia. Reports have emerged detailing harrowing atrocities including forced abortion, coerced sterilization, systematic sexual abuse, forcible separation of children from their families. Furthermore, grave concerns have been raised regarding allegations of genocide, encompassing forced labor, modern-day slavery, involuntary organ harvesting, and the operation of crematoriums.

According to reports from international organizations, the Chinese authorities’ treatment of the Uyghur population is aimed at the systematic destruction of their heritage, lineage, and community ties. The existence of concentration camps has been verified, manifesting as labor facilities encircled by watchtowers, barbed wire, imposing fences, and heavily armed guards.

According to accounts from former detainees, life within the camps is marked by severe political indoctrination, coerced abandonment of religious and ethnic identities, and brutal physical and psychological torment resulting in fatal consequences. Testimonies reveal systematic instances of gang rape, forced ingestion of unknown substances, deprivation of food and sleep, dehydration, and unhygienic, overcrowded living conditions. These egregious circumstances have drawn widespread condemnation from the international community as clear violations of human rights.

The Chinese Communist regime has also waged a campaign against the Islam, recognizing it as a central pillar fostering Uyghur unity and solidarity. This antagonism is reflected in official documents and policies, where Islam has been denigrated as a “mental illness” and Uyghur cultural and historical institutions have been dismantled or repurposed as entertainment venues. Numerous religious and cultural artifacts, including copies of the Holy Quran and books on Uyghur history, have been systematically collected and destroyed. During a visit to East Turkistan in July 2022, Xi Jinping emphasized the necessity for Islam to align with Chinese values and socialism. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policy of “Sinicizing Islam” dictates that Islamic principles must conform to communist ideology, with religious practices serving the party’s interests exclusively. Uyghur women’s traditional attire, deemed “illegal Islamic clothing” by government officials, has been forcibly removed in public settings.

Religious articles and materials associated with Islamic education have been prohibited, and mosques systematically demolished. Expert estimates indicate that approximately 16,000 mosques have been razed since 2017, with 8,500 completely destroyed, amounting to 65% of the mosques in East Turkistan. Moreover, mosques in predominantly Muslim provinces such as Ningxia and Gansu have either been shuttered, demolished, or repurposed for alternative uses. A report by Human Rights Watch dated November 22, 2023, revealed that 1,300 mosques in Ningxia had been closed or repurposed since 2020, constituting one-third of the region’s total mosques. Chinese authorities have attempted to reinterpret religious rites and practices as acts of homage to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Xi Jinping, resulting in alterations to the call to prayer (adhan), use of prayer beads (rosary), and prayers themselves. These measures are perceived as part of a broader “Sinicization” endeavor aimed at ensuring that Islam in China operates solely in alignment with the interests of the CCP.

Despite the plethora of news articles, firsthand accounts from survivors, reports by independent international organizations, and advocacy efforts by numerous NGOs, the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs persists largely unchecked. Surprisingly, beyond select Western countries like the United States, the broader international community and Muslim-majority states have failed to take decisive action against China’s relentless persecution of the Uyghur minority. Why? The answer lies in the intricate web of diplomatic and economic relations that both Western nations and Muslim states maintain with China.

A pragmatic outlook prevails, wherein economic and diplomatic interests often overshadow human rights concerns. Regrettably, the Chinese Communist regime’s propaganda, devoid of factual basis and aimed at whitewashing its actions, finds acceptance on the global stage. Furthermore, the influence of Realpolitik, a doctrine famously championed by the late Henry Kissinger, former security advisor of the United States, looms large. Kissinger’s support for the CCP’s authoritarian regime post-Mao, which served to bolster China’s stature on the global stage, underscores the primacy of economic and diplomatic considerations in international relations. China’s integration into the capitalist framework in the 1980s opened lucrative investment avenues for Western companies, despite ongoing human rights violations in regions like East Turkistan and Tibet.

Indeed, Kissinger’s elevated status akin to that of a head of state during his visits to China prior to his passing epitomizes Beijing’s appreciation for his role in facilitating diplomatic relations. Ultimately, the reluctance of nations to confront China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs underscores the intricate interplay between geopolitical interests, economic incentives, and human rights considerations in global affairs.

Moreover, the allure of participating in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects constitutes another factor contributing to the silence of nations regarding the Uyghur Genocide. Despite the contentious economic and social ramifications associated with the initiative, the BRI stands as one of the largest infrastructure endeavors in history, poised to impact roughly 65 percent of the global population and one-third of the world’s GDP. Encompassing a vast array of undertakings ranging from highways and railways to communication networks, energy pipelines, and seaports, the initiative holds monumental significance.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the total investment required for infrastructure development under the BRI could amount to approximately six trillion US dollars. According to the Development Research Center of the State Council of China, meeting the infrastructure needs of participating BRI countries may necessitate over 10.6 trillion US dollars. The promise of economic opportunities and infrastructural development inherent in the BRI presents a compelling incentive for countries to turn a blind eye to the Uyghur Genocide, underscoring the complex interplay between economic interests and human rights considerations on the global stage.

Speaking of silence, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has a great responsibility to prevent the inhumane practices in East Turkistan. However, the OIC has failed to fulfill this responsibility and has even supported the misinformation campaigns of the CCP from time to time. At the OIC meeting held in Abu Dhabi in 2019, the allegations of genocide against the Uyghur people were ignored and China’s policies were mentioned in a positive language; Only the then Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu did not attend this meeting and took a different stance. In the same year, it was noteworthy that among the countries that signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council in support of China, there were also Muslim countries that are members of the OIC.

In subsequent years, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its member states have chosen to maintain their support for China, despite criticism from Uyghur diaspora communities and human rights organizations. This unwavering stance was evidenced by the invitation extended to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as the guest of honor at the 2022 OIC Foreign Ministers meeting held in Pakistan. The failure to address the Uyghur Genocide during the gathering further underscored the organization’s stance on the matter.

The silence of the OIC member countries has also manifested itself in the international arena. In an application made to the UN in 2019, despite drawing attention to human rights violations in East Turkistan led by Western countries, a counter-letter signed by Muslim countries standing by China was published. In October 2022, Muslim-majority countries voted either against or abstained from a motion put forward by the UN Human Rights Council to discuss the Uyghur human rights situation, creating disappointment for the Uyghurs. The OIC’s latest move, which further strengthened its relations with China, was a visit to East Turkistan praising China’s policies. This attitude of the OIC and its member countries is seen as a result of the economic, political and diplomatic relations they want to maintain with China. These countries have faced international sanctions for their own human rights violations and have relied on China’s support in difficult times. In addition, China has become an influential power in the energy markets and has attracted the Islamic world to its sphere of influence with the Belt and Road Initiative.

When examining the Arab and Middle Eastern region, where the majority of Muslim states are located, the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) alongside the significance of oil becomes apparent. China’s strategic relations with the Arab world hold immense economic and diplomatic importance, playing a pivotal role in shielding the Chinese government from scrutiny over human rights violations in East Turkistan. Economically, China relies heavily on Arab countries to fulfill a substantial portion of its oil requirements, which is critical for sustaining its global production capacity. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait collectively supply 52% of China’s oil needs, establishing them as strategic partners.

These nations have forged significant partnerships with China, with numerous agreements signed under the BRI since its inception in 2013. Egypt, for instance, occupies a central position due to its strategic location along the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, substantial deals like the 25-year, $400 billion agreement with Iran underscore China’s deepening ties with the region. Chinese government-backed enterprises are spearheading major projects and infrastructural developments across Arab countries.

However, rather than fostering local economic growth, Chinese investments often result in the transfer of opportunities to Chinese companies, with resources primarily sourced from China itself. Consequently, the Arab world finds itself increasingly economically reliant on China, a dynamic exacerbated by borrowing from Chinese institutions. This economic interdependence further cements China’s influence in the region, underscoring the complex interplay between economic interests and diplomatic relations in the Arab world.

In the diplomatic field, this economic dependence keeps the Arab world in China’s orbit. China, which has veto rights in the UN Security Council, uses this advantage to direct the Arab world in line with its own political interests. Arab countries unquestioningly support China’s positions in the international arena and act in line with China’s interests in their relations with America and Western countries. This situation constitutes one of the most concrete and dramatic examples of the Turkish phrase “the borrower takes orders”.

One contributing factor to the insufficient attention given to the genocide in East Turkistan within the Islamic world, and the consequent isolation of the Uyghur people, is the alignment of some Muslim Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Islamic scholars with China. The Chinese Communist Regime strategically hosts representatives, scholars, and opinion leaders from Muslim countries as part of its own propaganda efforts, aiming to legitimize its repressive policies under the guise of counterterrorism.

For instance, earlier this year, a delegation comprising the head of the World Council of Muslim Communities and scholars from various countries visited East Turkistan. This delegation made statements that support China’s so-called “counterterrorism measures” and denied the Uyghur Genocide. Such actions not only bolster China’s narrative but also undermine efforts to address the grave human rights violations and genocide perpetrated against the Uyghurs.

According to the report from the Center for Uyghur Studies, since 2019, numerous diplomats, scholars, and journalists have visited East Turkistan ostensibly in support of China’s policies, yet have refrained from calling for an end to the ongoing genocide. Furthermore, media outlets in Arab countries, influenced by China, abstain from disseminating negative news  about China and effectively serve as conduits for Chinese propaganda efforts.

The China Intercontinental Communication Center collaborates with media networks across the Middle East to disseminate China-centric content tailored for the region. Chinese media outlets, including Xinhua, have entered into content agreements with Middle Eastern media, facilitating the publication of content that portrays China in a favorable light. These arrangements perpetuate a narrative aligned with China’s interests while obfuscating the harsh realities of human rights abuses in East Turkistan.

Nonetheless, China has actively orchestrated efforts to sway public opinion in Arab countries, ensuring that voices opposing the genocide in East Turkistan are suppressed while providing ample coverage for Chinese officials defending their policies. For instance, high-ranking officials like the Chinese Consul General in Saudi Arabia and the Chinese Foreign Minister have been given platforms in the press to articulate their justifications for actions in East Turkistan.

In Egypt, major newspapers have yielded to pressure from Chinese authorities, opening their pages to disseminate misleading information about the situation in East Turkistan. Shockingly, the editor of Al Ahram described the concentration camps in East Turkistan as educational facilities, effectively whitewashing the atrocities being perpetrated. State-sponsored publications in other Arab nations, including Qatar and Jordan, have also echoed China’s denials of the Uyghur Genocide, framing discussions on the topic as part of a Western campaign against China.

These concerted efforts have not only obscured the persecution of Muslim Uyghurs from the international community but have also propagated the false narrative that China is the sole force combating terrorism. This deliberate manipulation of media coverage serves to obfuscate the truth and maintain China’s grip on the narrative surrounding its actions in East Turkistan.

In conclusion, it is evident that despite the blatant and ongoing Uyghur Genocide perpetrated by the Chinese Communist regime, it paradoxically garners significant support from the Islamic world. China has successfully cultivated alliances with Muslim and Arab nations across various sectors, ranging from oil trade to participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, all the while disregarding calls from human rights organizations to stop the genocide. Tragically, the valiant efforts of the Uyghur Diaspora to raise awareness and oppose the genocide in East Turkistan are sometimes mischaracterized as mere machinations of the West or attempts to prevent China’s rise. This stark reality underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics at play and highlights the urgent need for concerted international action to address the ongoing genocide in East Turkistan.

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