What you need to know:
- For the last three years, global rights watchdogs and Western Countries including the US have accused China of violating the minority Uighurs who live predominantly in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in China.
- In July, the US State Department imposed sanctions on China, due to the reported human rights violations, and encouraged the international community to follow suit.
- None of the other countries has imposed sanctions, let alone upped its ante in criticism. In Africa, no country has even pointed a finger at China, with most remaining publicly neutral on the matter.
Sudanese authorities have chosen to avoid the sensitive issue of China’s Xinjiang populations in what appears to be a careful move to keep the country from hurting allies.
For the last three years, global rights watchdogs and Western Countries including the US have accused China of violating the minority Uighurs who live predominantly in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in China.
In July, the US State Department imposed sanctions on China, due to the reported human rights violations, and encouraged the international community to follow suit.
“The human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang and China, against the Uighur’s and other Muslim minorities, are the stain of the century,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
None of the other countries has imposed sanctions, let alone upped its ante in criticism. In Africa, no country has even pointed a finger at China, with most remaining publicly neutral on the matter.
It wasn’t always like this. In July 2019, a number of African countries responded vehemently after a group of 22 countries mostly Western European, issued an open letter to the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), condemning China’s mass detention of Uighurs and other minorities.
The signatories said they had credible reports that China was arbitrarily detaining local Muslims in Xinjiang and that it had imposed “widespread surveillance and restrictions.”
The responders in support of China included Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia and Uganda. Others were Cameroon, Comoros, the Congo, DR Congo, Nigeria, Togo, Mozambique, Editorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon as well as Zambia and Zimbabwe.
They endorsed a letter that was also signed by Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations calling on Western countries criticising China “to refrain from employing unfounded charges against China.”
The ping pong has made the UN unable to pass a vote that would ensure independent investigators are sent to Xinjiang to assess the situation.
A year since the transitional government of Sudan came to power, however, Khartoum has chosen to stay off the debate.
Officials told the Nation that Khartoum would remain neutral for now, in order not to appear critical of a country influential in the United Nations system.
Khartoum has recently been reluctant to accept the US overtures to normalise relations with Israel, which most Muslim countries have refused to recognise.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told visiting Mr Pompeo in August that his government lacked the mandate to decide on Israel as it was only transitional.
Sudan, however, is in serious need of money to rebuild its economy after Omar al-Bashir’s ouster from the presidency.
In August, Saudi Arabia hosted the ‘Friends of Sudan Conference’, at which donors pledged to give millions of dollars.
Saudi Arabia runs an important influence on Khartoum and Sudan often takes Riyadh’s positions in the international sphere. Riyadh officially endorses China’s policies in Xinjiang.
Last week, China endorsed Sudan’s peace deal with rebels and pledged “to work with the international community to continue making constructive efforts in promoting peace, stability and development of Sudan,” according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Analysts told the Nation that Sudan’s stance on Xinjiang is influenced by its economic needs.
Mohammad Abdul Aziz, a political analyst in Khartoum who studied in China on scholarship, told the Nation that China has considered Uighurs a national security matter, but said the stance of other countries is mostly a political and economic issue.
“For China, national security is a red line. Remember there are Muslims in other provinces of China so whatever China does is mostly influenced by threats to its national unity and security,” he said on Sunday.
Influenced by what he called “a conflict of interest between the US and China,” Mr Aziz said countries will take sides or remain neutral depending on the political or economic situation that suits them.
“There are violations of the rights of Muslims in the Arab world by Israel, for example, but America does not talk about it.”
China has, since 2013, pushed the envelope on the Belt and Road Initiative which includes African countries like Kenya, Egypt and Djibouti in the original idea of the belt, which seeks to connect the world through infrastructure and trade.
The idea is controversial as it has raised a storm over debt. Sudan is not on the network yet but it lies in the African hinterland, which China considers invaluable in connections to port countries.
Tarig Osman, another political analyst in Khartoum who specialises in Middle East affairs, said China’s economic penetration in these countries and the amount of trade volumes involved have contributed to their silence.
“Trade between China and the Arab countries amounts to about $250 billion. Add this to the Chinese construction contracts in the Arab countries, which last year amounted to $35 billion, and the massive Chinese investments in Islamic countries,” Mr Osman said.
“These factors make those countries remain silent about the Chinese excesses and discrimination practised by the Chinese government against the Muslim Uighur minority. Many Islamic countries cannot lose an economic partner such as China, therefore, they choose to turn a blind eye to reports by human rights organisations, which hold the Chinese government directly responsible for what happens to minorities there,” he added.
China refutes the accusation of rights violations and insists that the Uighurs live side by side with other minority communities.
“Several countries and some people have created so many lies regarding Xinjiang, including those quotations they made. The truth is that they are just actors at someone else's disposal,” Ms Hua Chunying, Spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry said last week.
“We welcome those who truly care about Xinjiang to visit and see how ethnic minorities like Uyghur, Kazakh and Han are living together in harmony. All the rumors will collapse in the face of the truth,” she added.