The Long Shadow of Xinjiang

The Long Shadow of Xinjiang

For years, evidence has accumulated of Chinese atrocities against minority groups in Xinjiang, the northwestern province that is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur people. Investigative journalists, researchers, and refugees paint a grim picture of mass surveillance, arbitrary arrest, forced labor, sprawling detention camps, torture, and murder. The Chinese government has not only engaged in political and cultural repression but taken specific aim at the Muslim faith: it has destroyed mosques, confiscated Korans, forbidden halal diets, and banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

And yet the countries and entities that regularly criticize Israel, Myanmar, the United States, and other nations for their actions against Muslims have kept quiet about China’s treatment of the Uighurs. The governments of Muslim-majority states, Muslim religious leaders, and international institutions such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have avoided calling out the litany of abuses in Xinjiang. Some have accepted Chinese funds in support of infrastructure projects and even signed on to letters supporting China’s behavior in Xinjiang.

Civil society groups in Muslim-majority countries, however, are increasingly uncomfortable with their governments’ reticence. Activists are organizing boycotts, protests, and media campaigns in a bid to bring the plight of the Uighurs to broader attention. Their efforts are slowly shifting the behavior of their governments: Chinese investment and political influence may prevent many leaders from openly criticizing China, but opposition figures and officials at lower levels of government have begun to speak out in response to pressure from below.