I have written a few blogs about China’s counter terrorism approach when it comes to Uyghur Islamist extremists. I have dedicated a podcast to it as well as a partial chapter in my third book The Lesser Jihads. And yet it is a topic that I need to return to – again – in light of some events here in Canada, a country far away from Xinjiang province, where most of China’s Uyghurs live.
What has prompted me to pick up the pen one more time is a story I came across thanks to a friend of mine, Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University (full disclosure: I am a digital fellow at MIGS). Kyle was trying to organise a conference featuring a prominent exiled Uyghur leader when he got an email from the Chinese consul general in Montreal asking him for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter. He ignored the missive, only to learn that the consul general was also putting pressure on different people in Montreal to get Concordia University to annul the event.
That foreign diplomats are active here in Canada is not a problem. I have been to many, many events across this land that were sponsored by, or merely attended by, foreign officials: I even ran into a Polish Embassy official at the Canadian War Museum last week at a talk on the Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko. That is what foreign representatives do after all.
But what the PRC is trying to do is not normal; it is direct and unwanted interference in Canadian issues. What right does China have to tell Kyle, or Concordia, or anyone else for that matter what to host and what to discuss? None. This is a free and sovereign country and we can do whatever the hell we want, thank you very much.
This incident is not an outlier however. Chinese officials are likely behind attempts to shut down a similar talk at McMaster University in Hamilton in February. I have also met Uyghur activists in Canada who report credible harassment from Chinese officials. I am sure that this occurs more than we realise.
China is clearly engaged in a global PR effort to promote itself as a world economic power that we must take seriously. How else to describe the One Belt One Road initiative? China is also not beyond bullying people and nations it thinks it can do so without push back. How else to explain that almost no Arab/Muslim nation has seen fit to criticise the concentration camp policy towards Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang? Or that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) actually commended China’s efforts “in providing care to its Muslim citizens” (I suppose concentration camps are a form of care)? This pusillanimous approach is reprehensible.
I know money talks and China has a lot of money. I also know that China is keen to assume the mantle of ‘world leader’ in the wake of the dereliction of duty shown by the US boy president in that regard. And I know that China does have a terrorism issue, and that a small number of its Uyghur citizens are indeed terrorists. But this pressure must be rejected. We can have a serious discussion about terrorism but still harangue China for its illegal and morally bankrupt Xinjiang Uyghur Muslim policies. Decency and a commitment to human rights demands no less.
Kudos to Kyle and MIGS for their stellar efforts in this regard. Keep it up folks!