Why Imran Khan continues to refrain from criticising China on Uighur situation in Xinjiang province

·5-min read

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan continues to offer a dead bat to virtually all criticism of his country's closest allies, China, and this was in evidence once more in an interview with Axios last week.

Jonathan Swan's interview of Khan €" aired on Sunday as part of Axios on HBO €" saw the cricketer-turned-politician deftly, if rather disingenuously, refrain from criticising of China's treatment of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang province. When questioned about human rights violations in Xinjiang, Khan claimed that as per his conversations with the Chinese, "This is not the case."

And upon being pressed further, Khan bloviated about how he doesn't comment on what's happening in other countries and is more concerned with matters in his country and on his border, before going on to add that the situation in Kashmir "is much more relevant than what might be happening with the Uighurs".

What's the story in Xinjiang?

According to some estimates, close to 11 million Uighurs €" a largely Turkish-speaking ethnic group €" live in China's northwestern Xinjiang province. As per a US report in 2018, "Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000, and possibly more than two million, Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities in internment camps for indefinite periods of time."

These internment camps €" or re-education camps, as China calls them €" are home to mass rape, torture, abuse and even forced sterilisation of Uighurs, say survivors. Of course, Beijing continues to vehemently refute these allegations and ban news outlets and journalists who report otherwise.

Latest scrap over Xinjiang between G-7 and China

At the culmination of the G-7 Summit in Britain's Cornwall from 11 to 13 June, the leaders of the member states issued a joint statement that, among other things, "[called on] China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang".

Predictably, this did not sit well with Beijing, leading to a spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom to fire back, "The Group of Seven (G-7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China's internal affairs, which we firmly oppose."

You can learn more about China's war of words with the G-7 in this Firstpost explainer.

What Imran Khan has said about China recently

In his Axios interview, Khan said, "Our discussions with the Chinese will always be behind closed doors", which would lead one to believe that disagreements are shared in private because the only thing that makes its way to the public is resounding praise. In January this year, Khan lavished some more of it on China, by saying, "If we can learn from any one country in the world, it is China. Their development model suits Pakistan the best."

More recently, Khan's office tweeted that he "deeply appreciated Chinese leadership" (sic) and that he "reaffirmed the highest priority accorded by the Government [of Pakistan] to CPEC and the firm commitment to expeditiously complete CPEC projects, which will open up tremendous opportunities for increased economic growth and development in the region and beyond."

CPEC and Chinese investment in Pakistan

Pakistani and Chinese officials have historically stated that the relationship between the two countries is "higher than the mountains and deeper than the ocean". And while this is certainly true when it comes to politics, it's far more accurate when it comes to describing bilateral economic relations.

The UNCTAD World Investment Report 2020 estimates that Pakistan had accumulated FDI worth $34.8 billion at the 2019. And the biggest investor was China. This does not include the cash inflows for the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

A report in Asia Times states, "Analysts say non-CPEC Chinese private investment in Pakistan is increasingly driven by cheap labour and securing access to raw materials that are shipped back to China's factories. China is also building factories in Pakistan to export finished goods directly to European markets."

Khan's selective outrage about treatment of Muslims

"I concentrate on what is happening on my border, in my country," Khan told Axios, going on to name-drop Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan, before asking, "Am I going to start talking about everything?"

Apparently, this courtesy is reserved especially for India. Aside from his inability resist deflecting criticism of China over Xinjiang by mentioning Kashmir, it may be recalled that his seemingly noble letter to Mark Zuckerberg in October last year was no more than a pulpit from which to hit out at India.

In his missive to the Facebook CEO asking him to "ban Islamophobia just as Facebook has banned questioning or criticising the holocaust", Khan could barely hold off for a few sentences before launching salvos at India. "In India, anti-Muslim laws and measure such as CAA and NRC as well as targeted killing of Muslims and blaming Muslims for coronavirus are reflective of the abominable phenomenon of Islamophobia," he expounded.

Whatever happened to concentrating on "what is happening on my border, in my country"? With such a heavy Chinese presence in its economy, it's perhaps unsurprising that Khan won't speak out against China's excesses, but will happily indulge in fanning flames of disharmony elsewhere.

With inputs from agencies

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