Chinese crackdown on Uighur Muslims

Chinese crackdown on Uighur Muslims

Who would have thought the U.S. secretary of state was a football fan? I would have missed it had he not come in defense of Arsenal player Mesut Özil for his criticism of China’s treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims.

When China’s state broadcaster removed Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule, Pompeo lashed out from Twitter: “China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Özil and Arsenal’s game all season long, but the truth will prevail.”

Pompeo was probably not sorry for Chinese viewers to miss one of the greatest derbies in the world. Nor was he sad for Özil. Would anyone be convinced that Trump’s secretary of state was actually worried about a group of Muslims in the other corner of the world?

On the contrary, the Chinese crackdown comes handy as it provides a tool for pressure against Beijing which currently stands as Washington’s primary foe.

China’s oppression of Uighur Turks has always been on the radar of the Turkish nation. It’s only natural; there is not just a religious but an ethnic affinity with them.

No doubt, China’s grave human rights record has always been on the agenda of the Western international press, especially its intolerance to dissenting voices has always received extensive coverage.

However, I cannot help but think that the crackdown on Muslims started to receive higher attention in parallel with the intensification of the confrontation with China.

Let’s face it, Rohingya Muslims face outright ethnic cleansing but they don’t receive the same intensive coverage.

Obviously, it would be unfair to attribute the high attention Uighur Turks are seeing from the West solely to China’s growing political and economic assertiveness. China did step up its persecution against Uighur Muslims to unprecedented levels.

And at least Washington is raising its voice. It’s better than remaining silent like the Muslim world.

The more China invested in Muslim countries, the more their voice on Uighur Turks went weaker.

Take the case with Pakistan for instance. On a recent episode of the program Newsmakers broadcast on TRT World, the presenter asked Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan about the so-called concentration camps in China where Uighurs are incarcerated. “I do not know the exact situation,” answered Khan, adding that ever since he got to office four months ago, he only had four days off.

But, of course, a Pakistani viewer of TRT World could have urged the producers of the program to go and ask the same question to Turkey’s leaders.

After all, Turkey’s leadership has been one of the most vocal critics of China’s oppressive policies. In the past that is.

In 2009 the violence in Xinjiang province where Uighur Turks live predominantly was likened to genocide. At that time Turkey’s relations with the West were strong and there was not so much talk about strategic relations with China.

Turkey’s disproportionate reaction based on using a term that did not exactly fit what was going on did have its consequences. And it took some years and the promise of buying Chinese anti-ballistic missiles, as well as pledges, to crack down on Uighurs’ illegal activities in Turkey to repair the damage.

Indeed, there was a need to repair the damage because by 2010 Turkey had started to drift away from the West looking for new “strategic” partners.

Turkey had to give up on Chinese missiles (in 2015) due to Western pressure, but relations took a different turn. Now we are talking about strategic relations.
“We agreed to strengthen Turkish-Chinese relations at all levels; with a long term and strategic approach,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his visit to China last July.

There has been some controversy over what he said about the most important, thorny issue.

According to the Chinese, he said, “people in Xinjiang live happily in peace and welfare,” whereas according to the Turkish side, he said, “Turkey hopes the people in Xinjiang to live happily in peace and welfare.”

Just as the pressure of the Chinese in the 2000’s did not merit to be defined as genocide, the current pressure that turned into an outright ethnic ideological persecution does not merit diplomatic mumbling.

Who would have thought that the administration of the anti-Muslim Trump would speak on behalf of the ethnic Turks in China, while Turkey, which had for a long time, portrayed itself as the spokesperson of oppressed Muslims all over the world to remain blind and deaf to the plight of the Muslims in China?

But what is interesting is also the silence of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the unofficial coalition partner of the administration.

Looking at the demonstrations that are being held all over Turkey against China, it would not be a surprise to see that this silence will have its toll on the MHP as well.