Qatar retracts support for China's detention of Uighur Muslims

Raf Sanchez
Muslim states have been deeply divided over how to respond to China's policy - AFP

Qatar has reportedly withdrawn its support of China for detaining millions of Uighur Muslims, in a fresh split among Islamic states over how to approach the mass persecution by the world’s rising superpower. 

The small Gulf state was initially among 37 countries - including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt - which wrote to the UN to defend China’s round up of Muslims as legitimate “counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures”.

Qatar is now changing course and wrote to the United Nations Human Rights Council to ask that its name be withdrawn from the supportive letter, according to Bloomberg

Ali al-Mansouri, Qatar’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva said: “We wish to maintain a neutral stance and we offer our mediation and facilitation services.”    

Muslim states have been deeply divided over how to respond to China’s round up of an estimated 2 million Uighur Muslims. Turkey has condemned China and accused Beijing of “torture and political brainwashing in internment camps”.

 Citizens of ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan who fear relatives are being held in notorious "re-education camps" in China's Xinjiang region Credit: Vyacheslav OSELEDKO / AFP

But other leading Muslim countries, notably Saudi Arabia, have insisted that China is justified in its approach and praised the Chinese government for instilling “a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security” among Uighur Muslims. 

Qatar’s move takes it to a middle position, where it is no longer openly praising China but nor is outright critical.  

The Qatari government has often acted as a broker for talks between warring sides. US negotiators are currently meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha for peace talks, while Israel and Hamas sometimes use Qatar as a channel for indirect negotations.  

However, Qatar’s role as a neutral broker has become more complicated after its Gulf Arab neighbours cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the small but wealthy state in June 2017. 

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and drawing overly close to Iran and Turkey, both rivals of the Gulf Arabs. Qatar denies the allegations. The diplomatic crisis remains unresolved to this day. 

The initial letter in support of China was written after the UK and 21 other Western states wrote a letter in July condemning China’s approach to the Uighurs. The US did not sign the letter and the Trump administration has taken a mixed approach to the issue. 

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, condemned the Uighurs detention as the human rights “stain of the century”. But Donald Trump himself has said little and continues to lavish praise on Xi Jinping, China’s president.