Can The Uyghur Muslim Problems in China Be Solved Through the Campaign of Winning the Hearts and Minds?

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

— — —

Extremist radical Muslims do exist. One need not go into all their “root causes”. After all, almost 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are weak and corrupt, where lives are often what Thomas Hobbes called “violent, short and brutish.”

In such a national and regional milieu alone, especially since the 15th century, when the Muslim world was slowly subjugated by the colonial West, there is every reason to believe that the “Ummah” or the Islamic world is perennially weak, and some small segment of the believers gullible to radicalism.

By the above token, they are bound to exist in small pockets of China too, such as Xinjiang. The latter is the biggest province of China, and currently has some 10–12 million Uyghur Muslims, especially in the city of Kashgar, though some are concentrated in Urumqi and Turfan, all of which formed the ancient connection points and water holes of the famous Silk Road.

To be sure, no one can deny that religious radicalism is a serious danger to public order. But China’s belief that the terror cells in Xinjiang, Muslims have been becoming increasingly active since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, deserves careful scrutiny. Terrorism incidents have been far and few between since 2009, when spasms of violence occurred between Uyghur Muslims and predominantly Han Chinese.

If radical militancy has shot up, then the act of taking a weapon, and bombing another person, or co-believer, does not appear to be as hard as possible. The scholarship of Dr Timothy Grose, who wrote “Negotiating the Inseparable Identity of China: The Xinjiang Class and The Dynamic of Uyghur Identity,” as published by the Hong Kong University Press in 2019 deserves careful scrutiny. Perhaps side-by-side with the works of Dr Adrian Zenz and Sophie Richardson, the latter at Human Rights Watch.

Indeed, Sophie Richardson, has affirmed time and again, that the West has not kept a keen and close eye on China over the years especially on human rights issues. Elsewhere, she has argued in Foreign Policy that the “West” has lost it completely when it overlooked the problems of Xinjiang from the very start.

The fact of the matter is, the Muslim world has been complicit in perpetuating the human rights problems in China, often against their Muslim co-religionists. The OIC, for the lack of better word, is a hapless organization.

By this token, one can affirm that the Muslim world, in the current configuration as a motley collection of states, are themselves often belligerent to the rule of law. Thus, even these pastiche of states simply do not care about the issue in Xinjiang.

Rather, they would prefer to focus on working more closely on China’s Belt and Road Initiative; which again is susceptible to corruption. This is done regardless of the horror stories that have kept pouring out of Xinjiang.

Any benevolent neglect of this Uyghur Muslim issue by member states of OIC is dangerous , as the punitive measures seem endless and draconian.

More amazingly, of the 22 countries that have criticized the abusive practices undergone by potentially a million to two million Uyghur Muslims, with women forced to accept mass sterilization program to control their birthrate, as pointed out by the scholarship of German scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, none of them were Muslim.

For China to transform its iron-fisted approach on, or against, Uyghur Muslims, the Chinese government itself has to understand the efficacy of the campaign of winning the hearts and minds of the Uyghur Muslims. That being said, the Muslim governments have to pioneer this approach first, or do it concurrently with the key members of the international community and global civil society. Until and unless the Muslim world moves first, China is not obliged to listen to the views of smaller or weaker countries.

This is why the collective pressures of the United States and the European Union are key to saving the Uyghur Muslims amidst the Chinese campaign of sheer denial that the “De-Extremism Radicalization Camps,” are “re-education camps,” and “vocational training institutes.” Barring the efforts to stop China’s heartless policy on Uyghur Muslims, the world would be starting at a serious infamy.

Founder of Strategic Indo-Pacific Arena (

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Phar Kim Beng, PhD

Phar Kim Beng, PhD

Founder of Strategic Indo-Pacific Arena (

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