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China Claims Support from Arab States on Muslim Treatment

FILE - Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, wears a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus as he speaks at a press conference during the 41st GCC meeting being held in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 5, 2021.

Beijing says an organization of several oil-rich Arab monarchies has dismissed the Chinese government’s controversial treatment of Uyghur Muslims as “an internal matter.”

During meetings with Chinese Communist Party officials this week in China, Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, expressed strong support for China’s “legitimate positions on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and human rights,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Friday.

Al-Hajraf did not speak to reporters directly, but China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said he supported the position that human rights issues should not be politicized and “expressed opposition to interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Headquartered in Riyadh, the GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Hajraf’s visit to China is aimed at enhancing economic and security relations between GCC members and Beijing, the Saudi Gazette reported.

China’s government has been widely criticized for its repressive treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the autonomous Xinjiang territory in northwest China, which the United States has labeled a genocide.

“The Chinese government has committed — and continues to commit — crimes against humanity against the Turkic Muslim population,” Human Rights Watch said in a recent report. “In Xinjiang, Turkic Muslims continue to be arbitrarily detained on the basis of their identity, while others are subjected to forced labor, mass surveillance and political indoctrination.”

Similar wording

When they face accusations of human rights abuses, GCC member monarchies like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have often used the same “internal affairs” justification as China. Human rights groups criticize the Gulf Arab states for using broadly worded and vague counterterrorism laws to prosecute activists charged with undermining stability and national cohesion.

The world’s two largest economies, the U.S. and China, are intensely competing for greater influence in the Middle East for oil, gas and strategic interests.

In addition to improving trade and economic ties, China has pledged support for the GCC monarchies in resolving disputes and conflicts in the Middle East, analysts say.

“China is slowly but steadily working its way into the Middle East as a powerful and strategic actor,” Nicholas Heras, senior analyst at the Newlines Institute, told VOA’s Mandarin Service.

Beijing appears to have altered its behind-the-scenes approach to the region and is now vigorously promoting its interests, according to Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

“That said, the Gulf is not like the rest of the world. They will welcome partnership with China, but they will not welcome China's dominance,” Rubin told VOA Mandarin.

VOA’s Mandarin Service contributed to this report.