EARLIER this week the Malaysian government has chided Beijing’s alleged abuse of minority ethnic Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in a move that would likely add further strain to its cooling ties with China.
According to Bernama, the Southeast Asian nation’s Deputy Foreign Minister Senator Datuk Marzuki Yahya said Malaysia condemned all forms of oppression against any ethnic or minority group “as long as their human rights struggle is based on the law and constitution of the country”, according to Bernama.
However, the relatively small country insists it would take a cautious approach in expressing its views in matters that happen in other countries.
“This approach takes into account Malaysia’s policy to not interfere with the internal affairs of other countries without reasonable cause,” he was quoted as saying.
“Referring to what happened to the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang (China), Malaysia has voiced its views and recommendations on the international stage so that China will ensure that the rights and freedom of religion and harmony of its people are protected,”
He said during the 45th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh in May, Malaysia and other OIC members had requested the OIC secretary-general to hold talks with the Chinese government to voice their collective views on the treatment of the Uighurs in China.
“Hence, the government has constantly monitored developments in the region and will continue to seek the best solution to this issue through regional and international cooperation forums,” he said.
China has been accused of rights abuses in Xinjiang, torture of Uighur detainees in concentration camps and tight controls on their religion and culture. However, Beijing has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Over the years, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uighurs have escaped the unrest by travelling clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey.
Beijing accuses separatist extremists among the Uighur minority of plotting attacks on China’s Han majority in the restive far western region of Xinjiang and elsewhere.
In February, Reuters reported that Malaysia was under great pressure from China to deport the 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims who fled to the southeast Asian nation after a Thai jailbreak last year.
However, the Malaysian authorities freed the men and sent them to Turkey on humanitarian grounds, much to Beijing’s displeasure.
The Beijing-Kuala Lumpur ties had already tested since Dr. Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister after a stunning election victory in May and cancelled more than US$20 billion worth of projects awarded to Chinese companies.
On Monday, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian on Monday to convey the concerns of Indonesia’s Muslims over the plight faced by the Uighurs.
“The Foreign Ministry stressed that in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, religious freedom and belief are human rights and it is the responsibility of all countries to respect it,” ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said, as quoted by the Jakarta Post.
In repose, a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Jakarta insists that “China is a country with multiple ethnic groups and religions”.
“As prescribed in the Constitution, all Chinese citizens enjoy the freedom of religious belief,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Instead, the Chinese government said it was facing the threat of religious extremism in Xinjiang, adding many of its 14 million residents had struggled to find jobs due to their poor command of the nation’s official language and lack of skills.
“This has made them vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism,” the statement said.
“In light of the situation, Xinjiang has established professional vocational training institutions as the platform, providing courses on China’s common language, legal knowledge, vocational skills, along with de-radicalisation education for citizens influenced by extremist ideas.”