China is waging a global campaign against the Uighurs, a majority-Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in its western frontier of Xinjiang.
In the last two years the country has ordered tech companies to spy on their phones, outlawed Muslim practices like wearing a beard or going to prayers, and detained at least one million of them in prison-like detention centres.
Activists and politicians in places like the US and UN regularly slam China over the crackdown. Beijing continually tells its Western critics to back off, but goes above and beyond to prevent Muslim countries from standing up for Uighurs.
The strategy is working. Some Muslim-majority nations appear to be increasingly silent over China’s Xinjiang policy, suggesting a fear of incurring Beijing’s wrath.
A pattern of speaking up, then rowing back
In December, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – a 57-country consortium that calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” – acknowledged “disturbing reports” of China’s Muslim crackdown in a series of tweets.
Though the phrase was coined by the group’s independent human rights commission, rather than the OIC itself, activists welcomed the declaration as an important Muslim voice against China’s Xinjiang policy.
Many Muslim-majority countries, which are in the OIC, are located near infrastructure projects subsumed under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive trade project that aims to connect China with dozens of countries around the world.
The fact that the OIC acknowledged the Uighurs’ plight “certainly seemed to indicate a level of shared institutional concern,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Business Insider.