MbS parrots China's propaganda, and betrays its Uighur Muslims

MbS parrots China's propaganda, and betrays its Uighur Muslims
Comment: The Saudi crown prince's words were a shameless attempt to whitewash China's unacceptable treatment of its Uighur Muslims, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
26 Feb, 2019
Mohammed bin Salman said he supports China's 'right' to undertake 'anti-terrorism and 'de-extremism' measures [Anadolu]
Saudi Arabia has long sold itself as the "gatekeepers of Islam" and "defender of Muslims" around the world. 

This claim has become self-evidently more spurious in recent years, given the Kingdom's calamitous and ongoing war in Yemen, and its coddling of foreign leaders notorious for persecuting Muslim minorities, including Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and India's Narendra Modi.

It was with these headwinds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) flew from Riyadh to meet with President Xi Jinping in China last week.

I had thought that MBS would choose to not utter a solitary word about China's cruel and uncompromising effort to ethnically cleanse 13 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, or what was East Turkestan during the 1930s and 1940s.

But I was sadly mistaken. Not only did MBS speak about China's vast network of Muslim concentration camps, but also he actually used the moment to defend China's right to do what it's doing, in the name of fighting "extremism" and "radicalisation".

"China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security," MbS was quoted as saying.

This is straight up parroting of Chinese government propaganda, while also mimicking the self-serving "War on Terror" discourse, one that has been used as a curtain to carry out crimes against Muslims in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Myanmar, Kashmir, Somalia, Egypt and also China.

Over 2 million Muslims have not been sent to concentration camps because they're extremists or terrorists, or have been radicalised as such. They've been separated from their families for "crimes" that include growing a full beard, wearing Islamic clothing, speaking in Arabic, praying, reading the Quran, fasting, and for visiting the holy sites in Saudi Arabia, among 40 or so other innocuous reasons, all of which MBS would himself be "guilty" of doing.

China is Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner

Yes, if MbS were not Saudi Arabia's crown prince, and just an ordinary, bearded Chinese Muslim, he'd be spending the next several years of his life in a Communist gulag, or worse.

Moreover, in defending China's 'right' to warehouse Muslims on the basis of fighting "extremism" affirms the worst kind of Islamophobic trope, one that falsely posits Muslims to be uniquely or exclusively vulnerable to radicalisation because of their faith.

As a consequence of MbS' actions, Muslim-hating far-right groups and individuals around the globe can now say, "See, even the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia thinks Islam is a gateway to terrorism!"

The question here is why MbS would throw China's persecuted Muslim minority to the wolves?

Money, of course!

China is Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner, and during his visit MbS announced that Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom's national oil giant, had signed off on a joint Saudi-Chinese venture totaling more than $10 billion in investment in a petrochemical complex in Lianoning province, and a series of mining and transportation contracts totaling $28 billion.

To this end, MBS represents the very worst of today's geopolitics, where economic self-interest supersedes morality and basic human decency; where arms deals and petroleum projects amount to more than the sum total of human lives; and where dirty deeds are rewarded far greater than noble intentions.

Read more: Turkey slams China over Uighur abuses, as Saudi crown prince defends 'reeducation camps'

But MBS throwing 13 million Uighur Muslims under the proverbial bus is about more than just dollars and cents. It's also about power politics, and shifting sands in the international system, particularly the realignment caused by a retreating United States, and the emergence of China as a rising power.

Specifically, at least from Saudi Arabia's perspective, the Kingdom sees the tide of public sentiment in the US flowing against it it, mostly due to lingering suspicions about its advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the ongoing war in Yemen, in addition to the fact the US is set to become a net oil producer by 2021.

As such, the Saudi monarchy suspects its long time security guarantor - the US - is fast losing interest in its survival, and thus seeks to balance its security and economic interests by shoring up its strategic partnership with the next-in-line superpower; China.

When Saudi Arabia hears US presidents talk about "pivots to Asia," alongside promises to put "America First," including odes to withdrawing from the Middle East, its suspicions are confirmed, and so it acts accordingly.

To this end, MbS is unsurprisingly putting the survival of his regime before any kind of humane concerns. State survival is the great flaw in our international system, and it's why Saudi Arabia isn't alone in abandoning China's persecuted Muslim minority.

For instance, Pakistan, a country that boasts of being a sanctuary for Muslims in Asia, but one that recently welcomed a US$46 billion investment from China, also defended its top trading partner by claiming that accusations of Uighur Muslim concentration camps are "sensationalised by the media," with Prime Minister Imran Khan claiming he didn't "know much about the conditions for Uighur Muslims in China" in a recent interview.

So, don't expect Saudi Arabia to condemn China for its cultural genocide against Muslims anytime soon, nor any other country that is becoming increasingly dependent on the Asian superpower's economic might.

Don't expect Saudi Arabia to condemn China for its cultural genocide against Muslims anytime soon

This further underscores the roles we, as citizens and activists, have in bending the arc of justice in this constantly evolving international system, one that is being shaped less by nation states and more by non-state actors, including multinational corporations, NGOs, global charities, and sufficiently disgruntled individuals.

Sadly, no nation-state is coming to the rescue. If Uighur Muslims are to be saved, it is up to us to draw attention to their cause, drawing on our collective voices, actions and wallets.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.