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China and US clash over Uyghurs at UN Islamophobia event

US accuses China of 'genocide' ahead of UN's first International Day to Combat Islamophobia - which has been co-sponsored with Muslim nations by Beijing
Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US had formally recognised that Muslims are increasingly subject to “discrimination and violence” (UNTV)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US had formally recognised that Muslims are increasingly subject to “discrimination and violence” (UNTV)

China has accused the US of “abusing” a United Nations event to mark an international day against Islamophobia after the American ambassador in New York used it to draw attention to Beijing’s persecution of its Uyghur minority.

In a special event at the General Assembly on Friday, the Chinese ambassador to the UN also accused the US of seeking to sow discord between China and Muslim nations.

The event was being held ahead of the first International Day to Combat Islamophobia on Wednesday, which the General Assembly last year voted to observe annually on 15 March, the anniversary of the 2019 attack on two mosques in New Zealand which left 51 people dead.

'The Chinese government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang'

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to UN

Speaking at the event, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said that the US had formally recognised that Muslims are increasingly subject to “discrimination and violence”, and cited the treatment of the Uyghurs in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Thomas-Greenfield said: “We have also determined that the Chinese government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.

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“The international community must continue to condemn these atrocities. We must continue to demand accountability. And we must continue to call for all those unjustly detained in [China] to be released and reunited with their families.”

But those remarks were fiercely condemned by a spokesperson for China’s delegation.

“China resolutely rejects the baseless accusations made by the United States just now in abusing today’s high-level event of commemoration,” the spokesperson said.

He said the allegation of genocide against the Uyghur minority, who are predominantly Muslim, was “a lie fabricated by the United States”.

He accused the US of committing genocide against Native Americans, as well as war crimes including “the indiscriminate killing of civilians including women and children” in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We call upon America to stop making lies for their political interests. The whole world has long been clear-eyed about the US political agenda of using Xinjiang to condemn China.

“Such attempts is [sic] doomed to fail. The US attempt of sowing discord between China and Islamic countries is doomed to fail.”

Uyghur persecution

China’s persecution of the Uyghurs has been documented by human rights organisations and by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and has been widely condemned by western governments.

But Muslim-majority nations have been largely silent on the issue. Many, including Gulf states, have instead cultivated closer economic and diplomatic ties with Beijing.

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Last October, countries in the Middle East and Africa sided with China to vote down a motion calling for a debate about the situation in Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a group of 55 Muslim-majority countries, has also built close ties with China.

OIC members sponsored the General Assembly resolution, which was proposed by Pakistan last March, to create the day to combat Islamophobia.

But China also co-sponsored the resolution, which was passed in the same month that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was a special guest at an OIC foreign ministers' meeting in Islamabad.

Addressing the General Assembly meeting on Friday, which was chaired by Pakistan, Dai Bing, China’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said it was a “great honour” for China to co-sponsor the resolution.

He said that China was “ready to work with Islamic countries”, and cited last week’s deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties, which was agreed in Beijing, as evidence of his country’s regional influence.

Uyghurs 'under assault'

But Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a Washington-based advocacy organisation, told Middle East Eye that China was trying to “fool the world” about its treatment of the Uyghurs.

Kanat said: “It's not an open debate: Uyghurs are under assault for their Muslim and ethnic identity. If China's UN diplomats think they can fool the world, they are wrong.

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“China's Islamophobia includes torture of imams and detention of their entire families. At least 800,000 Uyghur children have been stolen from their families and put in government boarding schools to teach them to love the Communist Party and hate Islam. If China's atrocity crimes are not Islamophobia, what is?”

China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, and its attempt to deflect attention onto the US’s record of abusive policies towards Muslims, was also condemned by Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

CAIR, which describes the treatment of Uyghurs by China as “genocide”, last year condemned Muslim-majority nations as “shameful” for failing to support calls for a UN debate on the issue.

Mitchell said: “The fact that there is Islamophobia in the United States does not justify or excuse the horrific crimes the Chinese government is committing against its Uyghur Muslims.

“There's no doubt that Islamophobia is part of the reason why so many people were tortured and killed during the so-called war on terror, without many people in western nations blinking an eye.

“Yes, the United States has a lot to account for in terms of Islamophobia, and even war crimes. But there is no comparison to what the Chinese government is doing to Uyghur Muslims.”

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