- Mon, 06/18/2012 - 00:00
The theme of the first Organization of Islamic Cooperation congress on China and the Muslim World is “Cultural Encounters.” These are bound to focus on Beijing’s widespread cultural and economic interests in the Muslim world, and not on China’s encounters with its own Muslim population: Beijing would regard such a direction, particularly questions about China’s Muslim Uyghurs, as interference in the country's internal affairs. Beijing blasted Tokyo in May for allowing the 4th World Uyghur Congress to convene in Japan.
Estimates of the Muslim population of China range from 20 million to 200 million in the country’s population of 1.34 billion. The Ugyhurs, which number some 8.7 million, are the indigenous population of Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia, India, Russia, and Afghanistan. Many Uighurs complain that they are the victims of state-sanctioned persecution and marginalization in their homeland, aided by the migration of millions of Han Chinese into the territory. Beijing counters that it has poured money into Xinjiang in a bid to raise living standards and boost the local economy.
The triennial general World Uyghur Congress was the first in Asia for the exiled organization, which is headquartered in Munich.
In a recent lecture, an expert on Chinese Islam, University of Hawaii professor James D. Frankel, noted that the ancient Silk Road, which connected the Mediterranean region to China, brought Muslim traders to the heart of the Chinese Empire for economic reasons. They married into local populations, adopting local languages. Diet keeps the majority Han population and the Muslim apart. Pork is a staple for the majority. It is banned for Muslims.
According to the OIC, the Cultural Encounters theme “promises to open multifold avenues for research on the history of each of these two civilizations, the relations having taken place between them, their relations with the rest of the world, and for exploring vectors of cooperation between them in facing the global challenges at present and in future.”