No fewer than 37 countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and majority of Muslim countries last month signed a letter expressing support for China over its continued detention of about one million Uighurs Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang.
The pro-China letter was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights days after a coalition of 22 nations – majorly western countries, signed another letter, calling on Beijing to end its massive detention of Muslims.
Many international media are now reporting that Qatar, who was initially part of the countries that backed Chinese anti-Uighurs policy, has made a U-turn, saying it would rather remain neutral than supporting the incarceration of Muslims.
The Qatari move, which was first reported by Bloomberg yesterday, Wednesday, was made on July 18, six days after the text defending China’s human rights record was sent to the UN Human Rights Council.
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.
“Taking into account our focus on compromise and mediation, we believe that co-authorising the aforementioned letter would compromise our foreign policy key priorities,” he added.
Muslim countries have been deeply divided over how to respond to China’s round-up of an estimated 2 million Uighur Muslims. Turkey’s president, Toyyip Recep Erdoğan has condemned China and accused Beijing of “torture and political brainwashing in internment camps”.
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, fulfilment 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 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.
Mahmoud Mohamad, vice president of the Istanbul-based Society of Muslim Scholars of East Turkestan (SMSET), hailed the reported move by the Qatari government to remove its name from the letter.
“We are happy and welcome the fact that Qatar changed its position and ended its support for China’s policies against the Muslim Uighurs,” he told Al Jazeera.
Mohamad also called “other nations to follow Qatar’s lead and end their support for China’s policies against the Uighurs”.