Like a perfect all-weather ally, Pakistan supports China’s efforts for socio-economic development, harmony and peace and stability in Xinjiang, states the official press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
Its spokesperson when asked for by a comment on the release of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, said that not only China “succeeded in lifting over 700 million people out of poverty in the last 35 years, thus improving their living conditions and the enjoyment of fundamental human rights” but also that Pakistan appreciates Beijing's “constructive engagement” with the United Nations (UN) as well as with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation(OIC) General Secretariat “as evidenced by visits of the former High Commissioner for Human Rights and OIC delegation to China”.
Last month, in fact, a delegation of 32 envoys and senior diplomats from 30 Islamic countries visited Xinjiang. According to the Secretary of the Party Committee of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Ma Xingrui, the purpose of the delegation’s visit was to learn “About the real situation of Xinjiang’s economic development and prosperity, freedom of religious belief, ethnic unity and harmony, and people living and working in peace and contentment.” “Members of the delegation,” Xingrui said “expressed that the Chinese government adheres to the people-centric approach and has made great achievements in promoting the governance and development of Xinjiang.”
Restraining Order on Uighur Report
Michelle Bachelet, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights did not cover all areas during the widely criticised 'guided tour' of Xinjiang in May but still went onto publish the report on conditions for the Uighur and other ethnic minorities in the region only eleven minutes before her term of office expired, claiming to have been subjected to 'tremendous pressure' from all sides to withhold such a publication.
The Chinese, especially went all guns blazing, with various kinds of legal expedients and threats of legal and economic retaliation against the United Nations. This also faced backlash from various human rights organisations such as Amnesty International which have repeatedly defined the attitude of the United Nations in general, and of Bachelet in particular, as "unacceptable".
The lady has been accused several times, and by many for her dalliance with the Chinese establishment and, of having a ‘more than soft’ attitude towards Beijing. And the report, they say, reflects similar attitude. To begin with, it never uses the word 'genocide' while denouncing that and indicating the perpetration of humanitarian crimes against religious minority groups by the government of The People’s Republic of China(PRC) without outrightly condemning it.
UN Report: Dehumanising Treatment of Muslim Minorities
"The extent of the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of the Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz communities prefigures the existence of crimes against humanity," the report concludes. It also highlights the recurrent practices of torture or ill-treatment including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, and, systematic oppression, including sexual and gender-based violence.
The report also confirms the complaints of the World Uighur Congress, an umbrella group representing about 60 organisations states about the concentration camps where over a million detainees are subjected to forced 're-education.'
In the factories built next to the aforementioned camps, almost 580,000 Uighur inmates were being forced to work in the cotton harvesting. Adding to that is the obsessive presence of tens of thousands of security cameras for facial recognition and sensors tracking the movements of each individual– a strategy also adopted in the Pakistani port of Gwadar linked to China’s Xinjiang province and transformed into a similar open-air prison.
Or, worse, in what Amnesty, in a report on the same topic, defined the situation as a "a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale" adding that "It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus."
Back then, Amnesty International’s 's General Secretary, Agnès Callamard, accused not only Bachelet but also UN Secretary General, António Guterres, of "failing to act according to his mandate". And rightly so.
Whistleblower Reveals Information Trading
Months earlier, lawyer Emma Reilly, who worked in the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, denounced the very close connivance between UNHCR officials and representatives of the local Chinese embassy. Reilly, producing documents and emails, accused the UNHCR office of passing on to the local Chinese Embassy, the names and addresses of dissidents, Uighurs and others, who would have gone to testify before the Human Rights Commission.
The dissidents and their families have been intimidated, arrested and in some cases tortured. Incredibly, while Reilly was making her complaint, the Human Rights Commission allowed China, as it did in March 2020, to install a despicable photo exhibition in the corridors of the Palace of Nations in which patriotic and happy Uighurs are seen dancing in the squares, and on the roadsides.
To pass on this narrative, China was apparently pushing Bachelet to publish, alongside the UN report, its own 121-page report titled "Fight against Terrorism and Extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Facts" and the same Bachelet confirmed that she had received a Chinese diplomatic letter, co-signed by 40 unspecified states, urging her not to release it. According to China, the report is a “farce” arranged by Western powers where "so-called suggestions were pieced together based on disinformation to serve political objectives."
Specifically, the objectives of United States and European Union, which in the last two years have issued very harsh sanctions, freezing the bilateral investment agreement between the EU and China and banning American companies from importing goods produced in Xinjiang with the use of of forced labor.
China’s Surveillance System: An Orwellian Nightmare
Beijing claims that there are no concentration or torture camps, only vocational and re-education camps where Uighur 'students' are admitted on a voluntary basis and are more than happy to attend. And the Orwellian surveillance system would be part of a strategy aimed at fighting terrorism and separatist activities in Xinjiang, like the ongoing China's love story with the Taliban, against the practically dead East Turkestan Islamic Movement group.
For some years now Beijing has been trying to rewrite, for its own benefit, the definition of human rights by deleting freedom of expression in favour of economic development from the parameters of evaluation which covers, on closer inspection, all human rights violations that could be pleaded along the Belt and Road Initiative.
A Fresh Brand of Hate
In a nutshell, it proclaims that the Baloch genocide along the China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) is fine, the Uighur genocide is fine, if they are committed in the name of increasing per capita income. Many UN officials and many EU officials in Brussels privately declare that they have been under Chinese pressure that sometimes borders on blackmail.
And the Chinese propaganda machine alternates threats and blackmail with blandishments and hard cash. It is no secret that Beijing is shopping for professors, journalists, politicians and senior government officials. And that social media propaganda bots are particularly active and aggressive.
It ranges from the invention of fake journalists and bloggers, as in the case of the non-existent French journalist Laurene Beaumond who described Xinjiang as the land of happiness to the massive publication of videos and photos of neat and colourful mosques with smiling Uighurs published for years, at the rate of 4-5 per day, by the current Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Liljiang when he was serving as diplomat in Islamabad.
This would clarify why Pakistan, again according to the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, have a “consistent position that non-politicisation, universality, objectivity, dialogue and constructive engagement should be the main tools to promote universal respect for human rights”. Until you talk of China, and not of Kashmir or Palestine.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)