Has China’s ‘sinicization’ of Uygurs become full-circle?

A Uyghur detention camp in China.

By Haider Abbas

China for centuries remained behind its ‘great-wall’ and today also remain the same behind its firewalls , despite the globalised and international media. The only available information is strictly guarded and only through official government organs. It has now come to the fore that Chinese President Xi Jinping  concluded his four-day visit, after eight years, to the restive province of Xinjiang on July 16, to take stock of the successful programme of ‘sinicization’ of ethnic Uygur Muslims, which has been going-on from the past eight years.  The just concluded annual pilgrimage of Hajj to Mecca had 9,190 Muslims from China. There are an estimated 12 million Muslims, who are pre-dominantly Uygurs in the autonomous Xinjiang region.

The last couple of years has seen hundreds of Western media reports which have shown as to how Muslims have been put into concentration camps, de-radicalized and taught and primed as per Chinese history and culture, and now it is time for Xi Jinping to ‘pat-his-back’ by exhorting a ‘strong sense of Chinese nation as one big family’.  His further message has been ‘that Islam in China must be Chinese in orientation must be upheld to adapt the religion to Chinese socialist society. It is important to foster a group of religious clergy who are politically reliable, accomplished in religious studies, widely respected and can play a role during critical periods’. This region, it may also be known is the bridgehead to China’s most ambitious project of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is to go through with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to reach to Gwadar Port, in Baluchistan to further reach Mediterranean nations, European and US markets.

What matters here is the way there is a pervading silence from the Islamic world on the call for ‘Chinese orientation of Islam’ which mean Chinese Uygurs with no distinct identity i.e. no skull cap, beard, observe fast and of course no scarf for Muslim women.  There is now to be a policy of ‘right-perspective of history’ to be taught to ethnic groups. Therefore, no more pride to be attributed towards origin into Turkish roots and that Islam ought to be observed as per Chinese culture, such issues which have nevertheless bogged down the political landscape in India too, which otherwise have sometime attracted noises from the Islamic world as well.  Will therefore, from now onwards, as per the new Chinese diktat, there be no Islamic/Persian/Arabic/Turkish architecture buildings inside China? Will anything associated with Islamic past be effaced from modern day China? It is also ironic to note, that does not some of these aspects have a resonance in our country too, as NCERT has already whitewashed the Mughal history from the syllabus.

This is all yet to be seen, but the Western international reports have suggested that China has demolished around 16,000 mosques in all these recent years, and has also removed the dome and minarets, the distinct features of Islamic architecture, from mosques, China it is claimed has been engaged into ‘removing the domes and minarets from thousands of mosques across the country. Authorities say the domes are evidence of foreign religious influence and are taking down overtly Islamic architecture as part of a push to sinicize historically Muslim ethnic groups- to make them more traditionally Chinese’, therefore, despite the Chinese kristallnacht, China is no more to roll it back even when accused of genocide by the West and slapped by sanctions on it.

What however has also come-out is the unanimous silence inside the Muslim world. Since, Pakistan is to be into its key-project of CPEC and ‘all-weather-friendship’ with China, there was to be only a muted response, apart from Turkey which did speak about genocide (by 2009) but its protest-line is now clipped as it wants to court China even at the cost of Uygurs. Turkey’s media reports tell that China’s mistreatment to Uygurs is a ‘capitalist and imperialist propaganda’. Turkey is also host to second largest Uygurs and place to Uygurs ‘opposition in exile’ run by those who fled China after the Maoist revolution.

Iran has entered into a 400 billion ‘military-and-market’ deal with China for the next 25 years, hence, no fissures from Iran are also to come-out. Saudi Arabia, which claims to be the leader of the pack, is busy regaling US President Joseph Biden on his visit to the oil kingdom. Biden is on his visit to Middle-East, and does not intend to leave the region vacant for Chinese goods to flood into Gulf markets. The US-China ‘military and economy’ rivalry will go on the same and the Muslim world remains divided over it.

How will the Islamic world ‘put its act together’ is now to be seen as Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the highest Muslim nations body, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, did throw some tantrum initially in 2018, when it referred that its  ‘Observatory (had) informed that authorities in China are subjecting Muslim Uyghurs to involuntary conversions in detention camps (called re-education centers) by forcing them to follow cultural values & practices contrary to their religious beliefs’ on its twitter.  Four years have passed with OIC looking the other way. This will of course further embolden China, as it wants to revive its Tang dynasty theory  (618-907), which had conquered the regions under the Turks,  to convert today’s China into a homogenous society where Uygurs are to symbolize with ethnic Han Chinese and not with Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan in terms of racial/lingual lineages. That is what is to be called as Chinese ‘right perspective’ of history.

How will the Islamic world situate is now on understandable lines. China is a totalitarian regime, which has the might to buy silence ‘even abroad, if not the compliance or sycophancy, of Muslim governments around the world’ wrote Mustafa Akyol at Hudson Institute.  How and what happens in China next is now to be seen, as well as in India, but here it is the largest democracy of the world.


The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on political affairs.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here