Khan is the latest Muslim leader to give China a pass on the Uyghurs

George Mason University’s Jonathan Hoffman, who studies Middle Eastern politics and geopolitical competition, told me Khan’s statements are in line with the trend of Muslim leaders turning away from China’s gross human rights abuses.

They “represent a broader pattern in the region where the plight of the Uyghurs is sidelined as China has quickly become the largest oil consumer, trade partner, and investor,” he told me.

That helps explain some of the actions by Muslim-majority nations and their leaders in recent years, which Hoffman wrote about in May for the Washington Post:

In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were among 37 countries that signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council praising China’s “contribution to the international human rights cause” — with claims that China restored “safety and security” after facing “terrorism, separatism and extremism” in Xinjiang…

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited China in 2019, he declared that “China has the right to take anti‐terrorism and de‐extremism measures to safeguard national security.” And a March 2019 statement by the Saudi‐based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens.”

The most egregious example of how China has bought loyalty, compliance, and silence, though, may be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In 2009 — as Chinese authorities cracked down on Uyghurs amid ethnic violence in Xinjiang, and long before there were credible reports of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and forced labor — the Turkish leader spoke out about what was happening.

“The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise,” Erdoğan said.

But now his tune has changed. In January, Turkish police broke up a protest led by local Uyghurs outside China’s consulate in Istanbul, and the government stands accused of extraditing Uyghurs to China in exchange for Covid-19 vaccines.

Why such a shift? You guessed it: Money.

The Turkish economy was in a downturn well before the coronavirus pandemic, but China has come to the rescue. Erdoğan and his team have sought billions from China in recent years, and China became the largest importer of Turkish goods in 2020. Saying anything negative about the Chinese government — especially on the Uyghur issue — could sever the financial lifeline China provides.

That said, the pressure from the pro-Uyghur public in Turkey has forced a slight shift in the Erdoğan regime’s rhetoric in recent months. In March, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his administration has brought up the plight of the Uyghurs in private discussions with Chinese officials.

Still, that falls far short of what the world should expect from Muslim leaders.

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