Indonesia hands-off on China-Uighur issues, presidential chief of staff says


Indonesia will not interfere in Chinese domestic affairs amid pressure on Jakarta to speak up against the mass internment of minority ethnic Uighurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff said.

The comments from Moeldoko, a former commander of the armed forces, were made after peaceful protests sprang across the world’s largest majority Islamic country, and in neighbouring Malaysia, with demonstrators calling for freedom for the nearly 2 million Uighurs and other Muslims held in Xinjiang camps.

“Each country has its own sovereignty to regulate its citizens,” Moeldoko told reporters in Jakarta on Monday when asked why Indonesia was not more vocal about the Uighur issue. “The Indonesian government won’t interfere in the domestic affairs of China.”

China began locking up an estimated 1.8 million Uighurs and other minority Muslims in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017 over accusations that members of these groups harboured “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas.

Beijing’s ambassador to Jakarta Xiao Qian met with Moeldoko last week, after which he denied allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The meeting came amid renewed attention to the issue in Indonesia after a U.S. newspaper reported earlier this month that Beijing had launched a “concerted campaign” to convince Indonesia’s religious authorities and journalists that the Xinjiang camps were a “well-meaning effort” to provide job training.

Xiao said after meeting Moeldoko that reports about rights violations in Xinjiang were false, as he invited Indonesians to visit the province to see for themselves the situation in the autonomous region.

“Problems in Xinjiang are similar to those in other countries. This is part of our efforts to fight radicalism and terrorism,” Xiao told reporters after the meeting in Jakarta.

On Sunday, about 100 people chanted slogans and carried signs that said “Save the Uyghurs,” during a protest rally in Banda Aceh, capital of Sharia-ruled Aceh province, according to photographers for Benar News, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta on Friday and chanted “God is Great” and “Get out, communists!” as they demanded an end to mass detentions of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

On Thursday, Mohammad Mahfud, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, told reporters that he had conveyed to Xiao some of the concerns voiced by Indonesian Muslim groups about the treatment of the Uighurs.

“Our diplomacy is soft diplomacy. We do not interfere, but we look at things objectively,” Mahfud said.

“We are mediating and looking for the best solution, not confrontational,” he said.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations – Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – called on China to end human rights violations against the Uighurs, in a departure from their previous muted stance.

Rights groups have accused Beijing of trying to erase Uighur’s culture, language and religious traditions. But Chinese officials have repeatedly denied those allegations, while refusing to allow international observers into the camps that supposedly provide vocational training for the minority Muslims.

A report in June by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) had said Indonesia was reluctant to speak out on the Uighur issue because the nation rejected interfering in China’s affairs.

“The Indonesian government by and large sees the Uighur crackdown as a legitimate response to separatism, and it will no more interfere in China’s ‘domestic affairs’ than it would accept Chinese suggestions for how it should deal with Papua,” IPAC said, referring to a long-running conflict in far-eastern Indonesia, for which Jakarta has been repeatedly accused of committing rights abuses.

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uighurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism. (Source: RFA)