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The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Kashmir puts Chinese counterterrorism on the defensive



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr

Heightened tension in Kashmir and evidence of a Chinese military presence on the Tajik and Afghan side of their border with China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang are putting on display contradictions between the lofty principles of the People’s Republic’s foreign and defense policies and realities on the ground.

The escalating tension between Pakistan and India puts to the test what Pakistan and China tout as an “all-weather friendship.” The test will likely occur when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, debates an Indian demand that the South Asian nation, already grey-listed, be put on the organization’s black list.

With the attack and its aftermath unfolding as FATF this week concluded a meeting in Paris, the Kashmir incident is expected to really play out in June when the group is certain to discuss a report that is expected to provide what India considers evidence of Pakistan’s alleged culpability for this month’s attack on a bus in Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary personnel as well as Pakistani backing for the group believed responsible for the assault and other militant organizations.

Pakistan has denied the allegations and offered to help investigate the Kashmir incident.

China, however, despite refusing to prevent FATF from grey-listing Pakistan last year, will find it increasingly difficult to defend its shielding of Pakistan in the United Nations and could be caught in the crossfire as it continues to protect Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group believed responsible for the Kashmir attack.

Like in the past, China this week rejected an Indian request that it no longer block designation of Mr. Azhar by the UN Security Council as a global terrorist. China asserts that Indian evidence fails to meet UN standards.

Nonetheless, China’s shielding of Mr. Azhar risks it being perceived as violating the spirit of the 2017 summit in Xiamen of BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – that for the first time identified Pakistan-backed militant groups as a regional security threat.

Question marks about China’s approach to the countering of political violence and militancy also reflect on China’s justification of its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

Concern that militant Uyghurs, the predominant Turkic Muslim minority in Xinjiang, including foreign fighters exfiltrating Syria and Iraq, could use Central Asia as an operational base has prompted China to violate its declared principle of not wanting to establish foreign military bases.

China has been believed to be involved for several years in cross-border operations in Tajikistan and Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, both of which border on Xinjiang.

A Washington Post report this week, based on a visit by one of its correspondents to the Tajik-Chinese border provided evidence of China’s military presence on the Tajik side of the dividing line. "We've been here three, four years," a Chinese soldier told the reporter.

Evidence of the long-reported but officially denied Chinese military presence in Tajikistan comes on the back of China’s increasing effort to put in place building blocks that enable it to assert what it perceives as its territorial rights as well as safeguard Xinjiang and protect its mushrooming Diaspora community and overseas investments that are part of its Belt and Road initiative.

The evidence in Tajikistan, moreover, follows the establishment of a military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and facilities in the South China Sea that bolster China’s disputed territorial claims.

Beijing is quietly establishing a security presence in CA (Central Asia) that is broader and deeper than just facilities or hundreds of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers on the ground,” said Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Alexander Gabuev.

Potentially, China’s military expansion into Central Asia could complicate relations with Russia that sees the Eurasian heartland, once part of the Soviet Union, as its backyard. Continued expansion would call into question a seeming Chinese-Russian division of labour that amounted to Russian muscle and Chinese funding.

Like China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to be nibbling at the edges of that understanding on a visit to Central Asia this month in which he dangled investment, economic assistance and security guarantees.

Mr. Lavrov’s travels followed a visit to Uzbekistan in October by President Vladimir Putin that produced US$27 billion in commercial deals.

“Russia would be smart to rethink its policy towards CA, and base new approach on support for sovereignty of local states. If Russia won't view the 5”(Central Asian) states as its subjects, they are likely to seek greater engagement with Moscow to balance Beijing's econ/sec influence,” Mr. Gabuev said, referring to China’s economic and security interests.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and recently published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Monday, February 18, 2019

JMD in SCMP Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must walk geopolitical tightrope during Asian tour


·        Saudi Arabia has sought to strengthen ties with Pakistan with one eye on neighbouring Iran
·        However, Saudi investment in Pakistan could complicate attempts to forge closer ties with India


Updated: Monday, 18 Feb, 2019 10:34am

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s three-nation tour of Asia is as much about demonstrating he stands tall – despite Western criticism of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen – as it is about exploiting geopolitical and economic opportunity.

Prince Mohammed is betting on the optics of his visit to Pakistan, India, and China offsetting talk in the US and Europe about arms embargoes and sanctions.

Prince Mohammed changed his itinerary at the last minute, delaying by a day his arrival in Pakistan and postponing visits to Malaysia and Indonesia. The stakes are nonetheless high.

Saudi Arabia has sought to strengthen ties with Pakistan with one eye on neighbouring Iran. The crown prince’s visit coincides with Pakistan becoming increasingly dependent on Saudi Arabia while relations with China, its closest ally, have become strained.

Saudi financial support for Pakistan is designed to counter expanding ties with Iran. That support includes a US$3 billion deposit into Pakistan’s central bank to bolster the country’s balance of payments and another US$3 billion in deferred oil import payments coupled with an expected US$10 billion investment in the troubled province of Balochistan, which borders Iran.

Prince Mohammed could also seize upon Pakistani criticism of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and efforts to refocus the US$45 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on job creation, agriculture and industry.


Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: AFP

However, Saudi investment in Pakistan could complicate Prince Mohammed’s attempts to forge closer economic and security ties with India, in light of the recent attack in Kashmir that killed at least 42 Indian military personnel, blamed on Pakistan. India has vowed to isolate Pakistan internationally, including seeking Pakistan’s blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), with monitors financing of terrorism.

Managing the India-Pakistan minefield will test Prince Mohammed’s diplomatic skills. Iran’s India-backed, Arabian Sea deep-sea port of Chabahar is viewed by Saudi Arabia as encroaching on the kingdom’s national security and economic interests.

A study published in late 2017 by the Riyadh-based and government-backed International Institute for Iranian Studies identified Chabahar as a “direct threat to the Arab Gulf states”. The study warned Chabahar would enable Iran to increase oil exports to India at the expense of Saudi Arabia and raise foreign investment in Iran.

The study’s author, Mohammed Hassan Husseinbor, noted the expanse of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province.

“It would be a formidable challenge, if not impossible, for the Iranian government to protect such long distances and secure Chabahar in the face of widespread Baluch opposition, particularly if this opposition is supported by Iran’s regional adversaries and world powers,” Husseinbor wrote.

Iran has blamed a series of recent attacks in Sistan and Baluchestan on Pakistan-based militants allegedly supported by Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s economic and geopolitical investment in Pakistan will be on the agenda for the crown prince’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes Mohamad Sabu, Malaysian defence minister

China rejected Pakistan’s initial plan to incorporate into CPEC Saudi investment in a refinery in Gwadar, a crown jewel of the “Belt and Road Initiative” a mere 70km up the coast from Chabahar, and a gold and copper mine on the Iranian border.

Nonetheless, China has benefited from Saudi engagement in Pakistan despite concerns about the kingdom’s intentions. Financial support from Saudi Arabia and UAE has made a Pakistani request for a bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) less urgent. That has in turn shielded China from potentially embarrassing disclosures of the financial terms of CPEC-related projects the IMF was demanding as part of a Pakistani bailout.

While the crown prince gave no reason for the postponement of his visit to Malaysia, it is unlikely money and investment would have been enough to fix Saudi Arabia’s problems with the Southeast Asian nation.

Relations since Mahathir Mohamad’s upset electoral victory last year have been strained by Saudi efforts to protect Najib Razak while he was prime minister. Deposed by Mahathir, the former prime minister has since been charged with corruption. Mahathir’s election victory also brought to office Mohamad Sabu, a defence minister with a track record of criticising the kingdom.

“Malaysia should not be too close to a country whose internal politics are getting toxic,” Sabu warned in a commentary. “For the lack of a better word, Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes. By this token, it is also a vortex that could suck any country into its black hole if one is not careful.”

Sabu has since withdrawn Malaysian troops from the Saudi Arabia-based 41-nation, Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition. He has also closed a Saudi-funded anti-terrorism centre, the King Salman Centre for International Peace, which was allocated 16 hectares of land in Putrajaya, close to the prime minister’s complex, by the Razak government. The centre was inaugurated in 2017 by Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman.

Prince Mohammed may emerge from his tour reassured, having been feted – certainly he would be less welcome in Washington or Western European capitals. The ultimate measure, however, will be his ability to manoeuvre and master a minefield of conflicting geopolitical interests, something he has not yet shown he can do.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

JMD in Firstpost: Geopolitics, the black swan in Saudi-Indian relations


India James M Dorsey Feb 14, 2019 23:57:30 IST https://www.firstpost.com/assets/images/article_count_key.png FIRSTPOST PRINT EDITION
0

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, the elephant in the room is likely to be what weighs more: the issues the two men agree on or the ones that divide them.

As a matter of principle, Prince Mohammed and Mr. Modi are likely to take their strategic partnership to a new level as a result of changing energy markets, a decline in American power, the rise of China and the transnational threat of political violence.
Discussions with the crown prince and his delegation of Saudi businessmen on energy and investment will prove to be the easy part. Saudi Arabia is investing US$44 million in a refinery in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and supplies 20 percent of India’s crude oil. India, moreover, expects the Saudis to invest in ports and roads while Saudi Arabia is interested in Indian agriculture that would export products to the kingdom.
At first glance, security issues should be a no-brainer. The two countries hold joint military exercises, share intelligence and cooperate on counterterrorism. They are also working to counter money laundering and funding of political violence. Things get complicated, however, when geopolitics kicks in. Prince Mohammed arrives in Delhi on the back of a visit to Pakistan, where he is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on a framework for $10 billion of investments, primarily in oil refining, petrochemicals, renewable energy and mining.

The memo follows significant Saudi aid to help Pakistan evade a financial crisis that included a $3-billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank to support the country’s balance of payments and another $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports.
The tricky part are the investments in the memorandum that include a plan by the Saudi national oil company Aramco to build a refinery at the Chinese-backed port of Gwadar, close to Pakistan’s border with Iran and the Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are closely monitoring Chabahar’s progress.
A potential Saudi investment in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan’s Reko Diq copper and gold mine would strengthen the kingdom’s hold in the strategic province that both Prince Mohammed and US president Donald J Trump’s hardline national security adviser John Bolton see as a potential launching pad for efforts to destabilise Iran. Taken together, the refinery, an oil reserve in Gwadar and the mine would also help Saudi Arabia in efforts to prevent Chabahar from emerging as a powerful Arabian Sea hub.
Saudi funds are flowing into ultra-conservative anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni madrassas in Balochistan. It remains unclear whether the money originates with the Saudi government, Saudi nationals of Baloch descent or the two million-strong Pakistani diaspora in the kingdom.
The money helps put in place building blocks for possible covert action should the kingdom or the US — or both — decide to act on proposals to support irredentist action.
Such covert action could jeopardise Indian hopes to use Chabahar to bypass Pakistan, enhance its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia and create an antidote to Gwadar, a crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Pakistani analysts expect around $5 billion in Afghan trade to flow through Chabahar after India in December started handling the port operations. It could also further strain ties with Pakistan that accuses India of fomenting nationalist unrest in Balochistan.
The funds take on added significance in the face of Saudi concerns about Chabahar and India’s support for the port. The money continues to flow even though the crown prince has significantly cut back on the kingdom’s global funding of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim groups to bolster his assertion that the kingdom is embracing a more moderate, albeit as yet undefined, form of Islam.

The money started coming in at about the time the Riyadh-based International Institute for Iranian Studies published a study that said Chabahar posed a “direct threat to the Arab Gulf states” that called for “immediate countermeasures”.

Written by Mohammed Hassan Husseinbor, a Washington-based Iranian Baloch lawyer and activist, the study warned that Chabahar would allow Iran to step up oil exports to India at the expense of Saudi Arabia, raise foreign investment in the Islamic Republic, increase government revenues and allow Tehran some muscle-flexing in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Noting the expanse of Iran’s Sistan and Balouchestan province, Mr. Husseinbor said “it would be a formidable challenge, if not impossible, for the Iranian government to protect such long distances and secure Chabahar in the face of widespread Baluch opposition, particularly if this opposition is supported by Iran’s regional adversaries and world powers”.
Published in a country that tightly controls the media as well as the output of think tanks, the study stroked with a memorandum drafted a year later by Mr. Bolton before he assumed office. The memo envisioned US support “for the democratic Iranian opposition”, including in Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province.
Iranian officials believe that Saudi Arabia and the US have a hand in a string of recent attacks by Baloch, Kurdish and Iranian Arab nationalists but have so far refrained from producing anything beyond allegations. Most recently, they point to a rare suicide bombing in Chabahar in December that targeted a Revolutionary Guards headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40.
Writing in the Pakistan Security Report 2018, journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai said, “to many in Pakistan” concerns about Indian support for the Baloch “were materialized with the arrest of Kulbushan Jadhav, an Indian spy in Balochistan who had come through Iran. Ever since, Pakistani intelligence agencies have been on extra-alert on its border with Iran”.
The journalist warned that “the more Pakistan slips into the Saudi orbit, the more its relations with Iran will worsen… If their borders remain troubled, anyone can fish in the troubled water”.
Mr. Notezai implicitly put his finger on the pitfalls Prince Mohammed and Mr. Modi will have to negotiate to ensure that their ever closer economic, energy and security relations can withstand the challenges posed by the escalating and intertwined rivalries that link West and South Asia.
James M Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.

This article appeared in Firstpost
Updated Date: Feb 14, 2019 23:57:30 IST


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Suicide attack in Iran frames visit to Pakistan by Saudi crown prince


By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr

This week’s suicide attack on Revolutionary Guards in Iran’s south-eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, the second in two months, could not have come at a more awkward moment for Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan.

The assault on a bus carrying the guards back from patrols on the province’s border with the troubled Pakistani region of Balochistan killed 27 people and wounded 13 others. It occurred days before Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was scheduled to visit Pakistan as part of a tour of Asian countries.

While Baluchistan is set to figure prominently in Prince Mohammed’s talks with Mr. Khan, the attack also coincided with a US-sponsored conference in Warsaw, widely seen as an effort by the Trump administration to further isolate Iran economically and diplomatically.

Inside the conference, dubbed The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that US policy was designed to force Iran to alter its regional and defense policies and not geared towards regime change in Tehran.

Yet, US President Donald J. Trump appeared to be sending mixed messages to the Iranians as well as sceptical European governments with his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, addressing a rally outside the conference organized by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group believed to enjoy Saudi backing.

Mr. Giuliani told the protesters who waved Iranian flags and giant yellow balloons emblazoned with the words, “Regime Change” that “we want to see a regime change in Iran.”

Mr. Trump appeared to fuel suspicion that Mr. Giuliani represented his true sentiment by tweeting on the eve of the Warsaw conference in a reference to the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution: “40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future.”

In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards blamed the attack on "mercenaries of intelligence agencies of world arrogance and domination," a reference to Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.
Jaish-al-Adl (the Army of Justice), a Pakistan-based splinter group that traces its roots to Saudi-backed anti-Shiite groups with a history of attacks on Iranian and Shiite targets, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group says it is not seeking Baloch secession from Iran. Instead, it wants to "force the regime of the guardianship of jurisconsult (Iran) to respect the demands of the Muslim Baloch and Sunni society alongside the other compatriots of our country."

Militants targeted a Revolutionary Guards headquarters in December in a rare suicide bombing in Chabahar, home to Iran’s Indian-backed port on the Arabian Sea, a mere 70 kilometres from the Chinese supported port of Gwadar, a crown jewel in the Pakistani leg of the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative.

The attacks coupled with indications that Saudi Arabia and the United States may be contemplating covert action against Iran using Pakistani Balochistan as a launching pad, and heightened Saudi economic and commercial interest in the province, frame Prince Mohammed’s upcoming talks in Islamabad.

During his visit, Prince Mohammed is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on a framework for US$10 billion in Saudi investments.  

The memorandum includes a plan by Saudi national oil company Aramco to build a refinery in Gwadar as well as Saudi investment in Baluchistan’s Reko Diq copper and gold mine.

The investments would further enhance Saudi influence in Pakistan as well as the kingdom’s foothold in Balochistan.

They would come on the back of significant Saudi aid to help Pakistan evade a financial crisis that included a US$3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank to support the country’s balance of payments and another US$3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports.

Taken together, the refinery, a strategic oil reserve in Gwadar and the mine would also help Saudi Arabia in potential efforts to prevent Chabahar from emerging as a powerful Arabian Sea hub.
Saudi funds have been flowing for some time into the coffers of ultra-conservative anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim madrassahs or religious seminars in Balochistan. It remains unclear whether they originate with the Saudi government or Saudi nationals of Baloch descent and members of the two million-strong Pakistani Diaspora in the kingdom. 

The funds help put in place potential building blocks for possible covert action should the kingdom and/or the United States decide to act on proposals to support irredentist activity.

The flow started at about the time that the Riyadh-based  International Institute for Iranian Studies, formerly known as the Arabian Gulf Centre for Iranian Studies, an allegedly Saudi government-backed think tank, published  a study that argued that Chabahar posed “a direct threat to the Arab Gulf states” that called for “immediate counter measures.”

If executed, covert action could jeopardize Indian hopes to use Chabahar to bypass Pakistan, significantly enhance its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian nations and create an anti-dote to Gwadar.

Pakistani analysts expect an estimated US$ 5 billion in Afghan trade to flow through Chabahar after India in December started handling the port’s operations.

Iranian concerns that the attacks represent a US and/or Saudi covert effort are grounded not only in more recent US and Saudi policies, including Mr. Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program despite confirmation of its adherence to the accord and re-imposition of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.

They are also rooted in US and Saudi backing of Iraq in the 1980s Gulf war, US overtures in the last year to Iranian Kurdish insurgents, the long-standing broad spectrum of support of former and serving US officials for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and in recent years of Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and ex-ambassador to the United States and Britain.

Said Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s Iran analyst: “The concern was never that the Trump admin would avert its eyes from Iran, but rather that is in inflicted by an unhealthy obsession with it. In hyping the threat emanating from Iran, Trump is more likely than not to mishandle it and thus further destabilize the Middle East.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and recently published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Monday, February 11, 2019

Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang cracks Muslim wall of silence



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Tumblr 

In perhaps the most significant condemnation to date of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang. Turkey’s foreign ministry demanded this weekend that Chinese authorities respect human rights of the Uighurs and close what it termed “concentration camps” in which up to one million people are believed to be imprisoned.

Calling the crackdown an “embarrassment to humanity,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the death of detained Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit had prompted the ministry to issue its statement.

Known as the Rooster of Xinjiang, Mr. Heyit symbolized the Uighurs’ cultural links to the Turkic world, according to Adrian Zenz, a European School of Culture and Theology researcher who has done pioneering work on the crackdown.

Turkish media asserted that Mr. Heyit, who was serving an eight-year prison sentence, had been tortured to death.  

Mr. Aksoy said Turkey was calling on other countries and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take steps to end the “humanitarian tragedy” in Xinjiang.

The Chinese embassy in Ankara rejected the statement as a “violation of the facts,” insisting that China was fighting seperatism, extremism and terrorism, not seeking to “eliminate” the Uighurs’ ethnic, religious or cultural identity.

Mr. Aksoy’s statement contrastèd starkly with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declaration six months earlier that China was Turkey’s economic partner of the future. At the time, Turkey had just secured a US$3.6 billion loan for its energy and telecommunications sector from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

The Turkish statement constitutes the first major crack in the Muslim wall of silence that has enabled the Chinese crackdown, the most frontal assault on Islam in recent memory. The statement’s significance goes beyond developments in Xinjiang.

Like with Muslim condemnation of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Turkey appears to be wanting to be seen as a spokesman of the Muslim world in its one-upmanship with Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree Iran.

While neither the kingdom or Iran are likely to follow Turkey’s example any time soon, the statement raises the stakes and puts other contenders for leadership on the defensive.

The bulk of the Muslim world has remained conspicuously silent with only Malaysian leaders willing to speak out and set an example by last year rejecting Chinese demands that a group of Uighur asylum seekers be extradited to China. Malaysia instead allowed the group to go to Turkey.

The Turkish statement came days after four Islamist members of the Kuwaiti parliament organized the Arab world’s first public protest against the crackdown.

By contrast, Pakistani officials backed off initial criticism and protests in countries like Bangladesh and India have been at best sporadic.


Rejecting a call on the government to condemn the crackdown by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top clerical body, Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla insisted that the government would not interfere in the internal affairs of others.

The council was one of the first, if not the first, major Muslim religious body to speak out on the issues of the Uighurs. Its non-active chairman and spiriitual leader of Nahdlaltul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, Ma’ruf Amin, is running as President Joko Widodo’s vice-presidential candidate in elections in April.

The Turkish statement could have its most immediate impact in Central Asia, which like Turkey has close ethnic and cultural ties to Xinjiang, and is struggling to balance relations with China with the need to be seen to be standing up for the rights of its citizens and ethnic kin.

In Kazakhstan, Turkey’s newly found assertiveness towards China could make it more difficult for the government to return to China Sayragul Sautbay, a Chinese national of ethnic Kazakh descent and a former re-education camp employee who fled illegally to Kazakhstan to join her husband and child.

Ms. Sautbay, who stood trial in Kazakhstan last year for illegal entry, is the only camp instructor to have worked in a reeducation camp in Xinjiang teaching inmates Mandarin and Communist Party propaganda and spoken publicly about it.

She has twice been refused asylum in Kazakhstan and is appealing the decision. China is believed to be demanding that she be handed back to the Xinjiang authorities.

Similarly, Turkey’s statement could impact the fate of Qalymbek Shahman, a Chinese businessman of Kazakh descent, who is being held at the airport in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent after being denied entry into Kazakhstan.

"I was born in Emin county in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to a farming family. I wanted to go to Kazakhstan, because China's human rights record was making life intolerable. I would have my ID checked every 50 to 100 meters when I was in Xinjiang, This made me extremely anxious, and I couldn't stand it anymore," Mr. Shahman said in a video clip sent to Radio Free Asia from Tashkent airport.

A guide for foreign businessmen, Mr. Shahman said he was put out of business by the continued checks that raised questions in the minds of his clients and persuaded local businessmen not to work with him.

Said Mr. Zenz, the Xinjiang scholar, commenting on the significance of the Turkish statement: “A major outcry among the Muslim world was a key missing piece in the global Xinjiang row. In my view, it seems that China’s actions in Xinjiang are finally crossing a red line among the world’s Muslim communities, at least in Turkey, but quite possibly elsewhere.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa as well as Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa and recently published China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom