Foreign Affairs

NZ attack used to justify China’s Muslim crackdown

The regional government overseeing the mass surveillance of China’s Uighur Muslims has used the Christchurch terror attack to justify its actions - claiming the measures are about protecting, rather than suppressing, the minority population.

The Xinjiang government’s comments have attracted criticism from an Islamic group in New Zealand which has called for the return of Chinese community donations to the shooting victims.

About a million Uighurs are believed to have been detained in Xinjiang “re-education” camps, where they have reportedly been forced to learn Chinese songs and laws or face physical abuse.

There have also been reports of a dramatic increase in the surveillance of Uighurs, with the Xinjiang government’s spending on public security swelling to US$9.1 billion in 2017 according to ASPI.

In response to a number of questions submitted by the Wall Street Journal as part of its reporting, the Xinjiang information office defended the installation of surveillance systems at mosques by citing the Christchurch shootings.

“The recent mass shooting in New Zealand that harmed so many innocent lives is a strong warning,” the office told the Wall Street Journal.

“The goal of improving security at mosques is to protect the ability of the Muslim community to hold normal, orderly religious activities.”

The Khadija Leadership Network, which called for Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and the Federation of Islamic Associations NZ (FIANZ) to return $2.1 million of donations made by the Teochew International Federation, said the remarks were not credible given Xinjiang’s track record of treating Uighurs.

“The credibility of it is completely lacking: if you look into the few Uighurs who have been able to give testimony of their torture...you really do question how that [surveillance] has actually protected these people.”

Network founder Tayyaba Khan told Newsroom there was no evidence to suggest the surveillance measures were aimed at helping the Uighur population, given the discrimination they had been shown to face in Xinjiang.

“The credibility of it is completely lacking: if you look into the few Uighurs who have been able to give testimony of their torture...you really do question how that [surveillance] has actually protected these people.”

Khan said the Xinjiang government needed to show what, if anything, it was doing to support the Uighur community if it was going to use their safety as justification for widespread surveillance.

New Zealand had an opportunity to show global leadership in tackling the issue of Islamophobia in the wake of the Christchurch attack, she said.

“As we move past the incident of Christchurch, one of our growing concerns becomes where this is now taking us, which is we’re very quickly moving away from the fact it was an Islamophobic attack and what does that mean for us as New Zealanders.

“We define ourselves as a secular nation, but our discomfort with communities who practise a particular faith - and that might not just be Islam but other faith groups as well - that is a conversation we need to have and move into for us to truly be diverse and accepting and tolerant and all of those wonderful things that we like to think we are.”

Govt aware of remarks

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media she had raised the plight of the Uighurs with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a recent trip to Beijing, although she would not go into detail about what exactly she had said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters told Newsroom the comments attributed to the Xinjiang government in the Wall Street Journal had been brought to his attention.

However, he said he was “not aware of the facts behind it, other than to say that the Prime Minister has raised with the government in Beijing the treatment of Uighurs as a human rights issue - and it’s not the first time we’ve raised it”.

Peters said the exact meaning of the comments was “another matter of interpretation and we’re working on that” - although he would not clarify whether that would extend to diplomatic representations to the Chinese embassy or Xi’s administration.

The Chinese embassy has been approached for comment about the Xinjiang government’s remarks.

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