Atrocities against Uighurs: China asks Pakistan to manage negative sentiments domestically

New Delhi Written By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Aug 01, 2020, 10:38 PM IST

A picture taken on July 30, 2020 shows a banner pasted by members of a collective against violence towards women in support of the Uighur population on a wall of China's Embassy in Paris. Photograph:(AFP)

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The Chinese mission in Pakistan is worried about the religious sections of Pakistani society, which are considered not only staunch but uncompromising.

Chinese mission in Islamabad has asked Pakistani authorities to manage negative sentiments domestically when it comes to atrocities against Uighur Muslims which could take a toll on bilateral ties. Pakistani authorities had done an internal study to gauge the public mood on the atrocities against Uighurs by Chinese government in the restive western province of Xinjiang.

The report found that religious journals in Pakistan have been talking about it vocally and widely covering the situation in the westernmost Chinese province which one journal described as "police state". The main objective of the Pakistani assessment was to manage the reaction and control any activity that may cause embarrassment for both Pakistan and China on the Uighur issue. Journals like Ishraq, Ahl-E-Hadith, Mohaddis, Peyam, Al Burhan, Al Aitisam, Uswah Hasana and Tarjuman Ul Quran have been discussing the matter since November 2019. WION broke the  story on Friday. 

The report was handed over to the Chinese mission, with the mission seeking more feedback on the matter. The Chinese mission in Pakistan is worried about the religious sections of Pakistani society, which are considered not only staunch but uncompromising. It sees the role of mainstream English media such as Dawn who have reported on China's expanding sphere of influence also concerning. While major mainstream media in Pakistan have been focusing on growing cooperation and goodwill between Islamabad and Beijing, "certain English media" gives space to disturbing news from China, the mission has discussed with Pakistani authorities. 

Feedback on Urdu media has been asked, as religious segments rely on Urdu media for information. When it comes to Urdu media versus English media, the Chinese mission believes the latter caters only to a certain section of the elite and doesn't have a significant role in shaping public opinion.

What the Chinese mission seeks to understand is if concerns regarding Xinjiang are taking "shape of emotions" and this could be detrimental to the interest of both countries, especially with the mega infrastructure project China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC passing through the South Asian country. 

Both sides have concurred that "chances of emotions taking shape" may increase as western sources give more reportage to the crisis in Xinjiang but with documentary evidence. The Chinese response to western stories on Xinjiang is not seen as convincing and one that is lacking transparency. For example, while initially, China denied that acknowledge the presence of detention centres, Beijing later adjusted its position to pronounce them as re-education and de-radicalisation centres.

People to people connectivity is another aspect the Chinese mission has asked feedback on as Pakistanis might be forming personal opinions and getting information first hand. One is the frequent visit of people from Pakistan to Urumqi, Kashgar in Xinjiang with some married to Uighur Muslims and concerned about the safety of their families. Another is increased connect between Pakistani and Turkish nationals at public and official level and that might get expose the former with Uighur right activities.

Feedback has also been asked on current questions being raised on the silence of Pakistani nationals over conditions of Uighurs vis a vis being vocal on "other communities such as in Palestine or Kashmir." Pakistani Establishment and Prime Minister Imran Khan have been silent on Uighur issue and when asked have been muted to any criticism against "all-weather" ally China.