Having endured the brunt of the US military machine for decades, the Muslim world is today confronted with another leviathan forcibly seeking its political acquiescence: China.
The People’s Republic is currently pursuing an unprecedented crackdown on the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, previously East Turkestan, for whom the region has become a real-life dystopia.
More than a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in re-education centres under the guise of combating extremism and are forcibly undergoing indoctrination programmes, which involve studying communist propaganda and renouncing fundamental pillars of the Islamic faith.
Uighurs can be prosecuted for the most benign manifestations of faith, such as wearing headscarves, growing “abnormal” beards and reading the Quran. Their details, collected from facial recognition, identity cards and DNA samples are fed into a database to determine their loyalty to the communist creed.
In the clutches of a surveillance apparatus very much the stuff of Orwellian nightmares, Uighur Muslims find themselves the foremost target of the Sinicisation of religions, a policy which the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, previously modelled in Tibet to accelerate the political and cultural transformation of local people.
China’s security services are pressing members of the country’s Uighur minority abroad to spy on compatriots
While so many of us have been blindsided by China’s spectacular ascent to superpower status, why is much of the Muslim world pretending to be asleep when excerpts from Communist Party recordings equate Islam to a mental illness?
The shameful silence of Muslim politicians in light of China’s unspeakable crimes against Uighurs is more than just a story of betrayal. It’s a tragic tale of how globalisation has exalted wealth over human rights.
China’s unprecedented economic growth and aspirations for global connectivity, represented by its ambitious One Belt, One Road project, marks what many analysts are calling a shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world.
Its plan to integrate the Eurasian economies via trade, telecommunication and infrastructure has received the support of several Muslim nations, with some Middle Eastern countries viewing the initiative as a catalyst for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) transformation and others like Pakistan lured by the prospect of economic regeneration and overhauls to its creaking infrastructure.
The fact that China’s outreach to the Middle East and South Asia occurs concurrently with its hyper-securitisation and militarisation on the domestic front, indicates the extent to which economic interests continue to dominate the global agenda of Muslim statesmen and more specifically, how easily human rights become a casualty in the era of globalised capitalism.
With China’s repressive policies now extending to the Hui Muslim minority, as evidenced by their forced eviction from a mosque in the southwestern Yunnan province last month, its position as the GCC’s largest trading partner continues unabated, with flourishing bilateral and multilateral ties in the energy, manufacturing, construction and financial sectors.
The recent attempt to whitewash China’s state-sponsored terror by the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs demonstrated this sordid reality – the interests of global markets prevail over any plea for social justice.
While some Muslim leaders have raised concerns over the treatment of Uighur Muslims, the majority are conspicuous only by their silence. There is more to their betrayal than what meets the eye. Economic factors aside, another reason for this silence, suggested by Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol is the shared belief between the Chinese government and despots in the Middle East that authoritarianism keeps the house in order. Both are examples of unaccountable dictatorships where the ever-watchful eye of the security state presides over societies driven by political repression.
With China’s trade and foreign direct investments expanding in the Middle East and South Asia at an unprecedented rate, Beijing will likely increase its intelligence cooperation with Muslim nations, which means continuing with a violent crackdown on peaceful dissidents who are often treated as suspected terrorists.
Although Chinese authorities have exaggerated the threat posed by militants in the region, it may become a reality if officials do not desist from employing strong arm tactics to criminalise ordinary citizens who have absolutely no means of securing legal redress or justice.
Coupled with the failure of Muslim governments to condemn Chinese aggression and rethink their diplomatic standing with Beijing, the direction of Sino-Muslim relations may prove counterproductive in the long term by precipitating the growth of militant non-state actors across the Arabian peninsula and Central Asia waiting to export their transnational insurgencies in an attempt to stymie Chinese regional ambitions.
Despite China’s non-interventionist foreign policy, it may find itself entangled in regional conflicts where its economic interests are threatened, thereby exacerbating security concerns. The recent attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi does not portend well for the future of Sino-Muslim relations.
If Muslim leaders can’t dissuade China from its imposition of hard power, these attacks will become commonplace and will grant a renewed impetus for groups such as Isis and the Taliban to coalesce around the Afghan-Pakistan region and those territories to which China has extended its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to mount a resistance to the aggressive Sinicisation. The door is currently being left open for jihadists in countries bordering Xinjiang to take matters into their own hands to thwart Xi Jinping’s vision for transforming global governance.
According to Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, the Chinese government’s pledge to create a “community of common destiny” entails aligning the global order with Chinese aspirations for peace and development. The brutal treatment of Uighur Muslims must mobilise the international community to halt these designs envisioned by China’s bureaucracy of evil.