Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Treatment of Uighurs is a stain on China's global standing

Persecution of religious minorities threatens to taint its relationships around the world

Uighurs living in Turkey protesting their treatment by China / AP
Uighurs living in Turkey protesting their treatment by China / AP

China’s astonishing rise to become the world’s second-largest economy comes as it increasingly turns its face outwards towards the free world. Its $124 billion Belt and Road Initiative connects two-thirds of the world’s population in 70 countries via land and sea. But such a globalist approach does not come without responsibility and increased scrutiny. China is coming under growing pressure to shut detention camps where one million Uighurs, mostly Muslims from Xinjiang, are allegedly being held in harsh conditions. Human rights activists, foreign governments and UN experts have criticised the mass internment of a million Uighurs in re-education camps and invasive surveillance of Muslims in their homes. The Turkish Foreign Ministry is the latest international body to demand China closes the camps, calling the treatment of Muslims a “great shame for humanity”, while there are fears for the safety of the Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit. China has denied the allegations and claims any arrests are part of a counter-terrorist operation. Nevertheless, reports of torture persist. In recent years, the freedom of Muslim communities to practise their faith has been met with dire consequences. Families have been torn apart as relatives inexplicably vanish, according to the UN. Nor is it simply Muslims being targeted. According to the annual Open Doors report, more than 20 million Christians in China experienced persecution last year.

Every country has the right to defend itself against militancy but China’s targeting of religious groups is deeply perturbing and a stain on its claims to be a part of a globalised world. There is no justification for the arbitrary detention of citizens simply on the basis of exercising their right to practise their faith. It also threatens to jeopardise China’s relations with its Muslim-majority neighbours. Transparency and religious tolerance sit at the heart of any country wishing to be a global player. Such values are integral to perceptions of a nation at home and abroad. While it has yet to see significant repercussions, China must take steps to protect the rights of innocent Uighurs before censure for its actions damages its relationships across the world.

Updated: February 11, 2019 07:18 PM

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