CPEC-loving Pakistan needs to learn from Beijing’s recent treatment of Muslims
  • Wed, 06/14/2017 - 15:59

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau
Updated: Jun 14, 2017, 09.48 AM IST 

NEW DELHI: China is walking an extra mile to operationalise China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project but Beijing's recent treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang region has lessons for Islamabad, which is relying heavily on the corridor to change its economic fortunes.

In a latest move, the Chinese authorities have banned the use of names such as Muhammad, Haji, Islam and Imam for babies in Xinjiang. Names that start with 'Turk' — such as Turkizat and Turkinaz — have also been banned.

The Chinese authorities claim that this move will curtail 'religious fervour'. The new law also prevents people from rejecting 'radio, television or other public facilities and services', marrying in accordance with religious rather than legal procedures, and using the 'halal' principle to interfere with the 'secular life of others', according to people familiar with Beijing's latest moves to dictate lifestyle of the Muslim community.

Last year, the Chinese authorities had imposed a ban on 'abnormal' beards and full-face and body coverings for the Muslims. The new code also comes after the appointment of Chen Quanguo as the chief of the Xinjiang unit of the Communist Party of China. Chen had earlier quelled protests in Tibet.

Beijing's tough measures in Xinjiang include neighbourhood 'grid' reporting systems, widespread checkpoints and searches, extensive electronic surveillance, confiscation of passports and compulsory political education courses for Uyghurs who visited abroad.

"The legislation codifies security policies that have been applied patchily throughout the region in recent years as part of government efforts to combat religious extremism. It also forms part of a response to a series of deadly attacks in Xinjiang and in other parts of China. Since 2011, China has spent more per annum on domestic security than on external defence. The cost of China's domestic security policies — once euphemistically known as 'stability maintenance' but increasingly described as 'national security' — is likely to escalate in the future. Many of these costs will be difficult to measure in monetary terms," Ben Hillman, senior lecturer at the Crawford School of Public Policy of the Australian National University, pointed out in a recent paper titled 'China's dangerous ethnic policies in Xinjiang'.

"The increasingly draconian security policies adopted in Tibet and Xinjiang target entire populations and have become sources of deep resentment," Hillman explains in his paper. "They create the perception that Uyghurs and Tibetans are second-class citizens in China, and that the Chinese Communist Party does not value or respect local cultures despite the existence of formal laws that purport to safeguard minority rights...development policies that are rapidly transforming and homogenising cultural landscapes, and assimilationist policies that are said to promote inter-ethnic 'mingling', but amount to little more than incentives for adopting secular Han Chinese ways," according to Hillman.

However, China's policies toward Uyghurs and its 20 million strong Muslim community might draw ire of its Muslim majority neighbours in Central Asia, key to Beijing's OBOR initiative, according to China watchers. Uyghurs were allegedly involved in an attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan in 2016 and Thai police allege that Uyghurs carried out a bombing in Bangkok in 2015 that killed 20 people, mainly Chinese tourists.

"If China is perceived as anti-Islam, its home-grown Uyghur extremists might not be the only threat," Hillman said in his paper. "Chinese citizens and assets could become targets for terror outfits in Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. Chinese-funded ports, railways, canals, dams and pipelines could become vulnerable to terrorist attacks."

Two Chinese nationals were recently killed in Pakistan, following which Chinese President Xi Jinping snubbed Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the SCO Summit last week in Kazak capital Astana.