Government and independent officials in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country, have dismissed assertions by the United States and human rights group that China is abusing millions of predominantly Uighur Muslims in internment camps as “American propaganda,” a report by an Indonesian think-tank revealed this week.
Echoing the Indonesian government’s position, Agung Danarto, a top official from one of largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia — Muhammadiyah — praised the Muslim detention facilities, which China claims to be vocational centers aimed at combating separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism.
“The camps are great, there [the students] are given life-skills training, and so forth. They get lessons in agriculture, restaurant operation, cooking, and automotive repair,” Danarto declared after visiting Xinjiang, according to the report issued Thursday by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).
In the report, titled “Explaining Indonesia’s Silence on the Uyghur Issue,” IPAC revealed that Indonesian officials refuse to interfere on behalf of their fellow Muslims in China.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly said that China is subjecting Muslim detainees to extrajudicial incarceration, torture, communist indoctrination, forced labor, and the renunciation of their faith and native language, among other human rights abuses at the so-called re-education or mind-transformation camps, primarily located in China’s Xinjiang province.
Xinjiang is home to the largest concentration of the country’s majority-Muslim Uighur ethnic minority and other Islam adherents.
An independent international tribunal recently indicated that China appears to be preparing Muslim prisoners for organ harvesting.
Nevertheless, the IPAC report noted on Thursday:
The Indonesia government response [to China’s mistreatment of Muslims] remained muted as the Foreign Ministry and Office of the President struggled to decide whether China’s policies in Xinjiang should be considered persecution against Muslims as a whole or as a legitimate, if heavy-handed response to insurgency and violent extremism – or a policy with elements of both.
The think-tank conceded that “Indonesian officials have made it clear that they would welcome constructive policy suggestions that might help the Uyghurs without provoking China.”
In May, Randall Schriver, the assistant U.S. secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters that China is interning up to 3 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in “concentration camps.”
Except a few Muslim-majority countries, the Islamic world has been mostly silent about China’s Uighur crackdown.
In a June 20 press release announcing the release of its report, IPAC noted:
The Indonesian government is under little pressure to address the systematic repression of China’s Uyghur Muslims because many Indonesians see the crackdown as a legitimate response to separatism; do not trust reports of human rights organizations, or believe the issue has been politicized in the context of Indonesia’s April 2019 presidential election.
The IPAC report added:
The country’s largest Muslim organizations treat reports of widespread human rights violations with skepticism, choosing to dismiss them as American propaganda in the Sino-US power struggle. Their leaders have also accepted invitations to visit Xinjiang and most seem to take China’s assurances of protecting religious freedom there at face value. The hundreds of Indonesian Muslims studying in China, by and large, have a positive experience, contributing to an unwillingness to acknowledge serious restrictions on religious practice.
China has reportedly wooed Indonesian Muslims through “highly controlled tours of Xinjiang, the report points, out, adding that “largesse distributed to Muslim institutions has also been important.”
Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), considered a threat by the United States, is expected to run through Indonesia. Moreover, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner and second largest investor.
Uighur jihadis from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda have threatened to attack China. Xinjiang borders the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which the Pentagon believes to be home to the highest concentration of terrorist groups, including Uighur jihadi organizations.
Beijing claims Xinjiang is now safer as a result of its oppression campaign against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.