Somalia should not take sides with US against China over the Xinjiang issue
Published: Nov 16, 2022 02:20 AM
The United Nations Human Rights Council assembly room. ?Photo: AFP

The United Nations Human Rights Council assembly room File Photo: AFP

The introduction of the "Debate on the Situation of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China," during the 51st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on October 6, 2022 caused many divisions among the nations. Some countries like China strongly objected to it while some including Somalia supported it and others abstained. Nations that objected to the debate argued that it was a political manipulation by the US and its allies and not in the sincere interest of human rights. China, being at the center of the debate, strongly argued that the Xinjiang issue was about counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and anti-separatism and hence allowing it to proceed would undermine stability in Xinjiang and slow down China's development agenda.

In covering this issue, we should first look at a brief background of Xinjiang. As per the United Nations Human Rights article on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region dated October 31, 2022, this is the largest Chinese region, sparsely populated and blessed with many resources including oil, gas, lithium, zinc, coal and lead. It is also a major source of Chinese agricultural production. Therefore, the region's strength is that it is richly endowed with natural resources. The region borders Russia and Afghanistan, which positions it both advantageously and disadvantageously among historical seats of power. The advantage is that it offers a viable route and access to Central Asian markets, but the disadvantage is that it has been historically vulnerable to attacks from all sides. Its susceptibility to conflict and instability also includes a mix of tribal and clan loyalties as well as religious beliefs. This has placed it at the center of geostrategic calculations in context of the US war on terror.

During my stay in China, I had an opportunity to visit Xinjiang on several occasions and met people from different sectors. People speak the Uyghur language, practice their cultural traditions and even proudly advertise on the streets in their language. The Chinese government has even allowed use of the language in the region's radio, TV and press, not forgetting that they print Uyghur text on the Chinese currency.

At no single time did I witness human rights violations during my service and thereafter. This region is privileged. For example, during the time of Family Planning in China, it had the opportunity for families to have more than one child, resulting in its ballooning Uyghur population from 3 million before the People's Republic was founded in 1949 to almost 12 million now. Xinjiang has 24,400 mosques, more than those in the US, UK, Canada and other European countries combined. The region has major Muslim communities which have been embraced by the Chinese government and are allowed to freely practice their faith.

China has also tried resolving this issue diplomatically. For example, in the UN meeting held on October 21, 2022, the Chinese Ambassador to the UN remarked that China had organized many conferences and tours in Xinjiang and extended an invitation to diplomats, journalists and officials of international organizations and religious figures, over 2,000 of whom have visited, including Somali diplomats. But the US and other Western countries always turn down such invitations. This could have been a single important diplomatic method of resolving misunderstanding of the region rather than engaging in blame games.

Internally, it is proof that China has no bad feelings about the Muslim community. Looking at the capital city Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is situated near a Muslim community, where all Muslim practices are embraced including eating halal foods and running a good Muslim primary school that even enrolls children of Chinese diplomats.

The ambassador remarked that Somalia has been a strong supporter of China on the Xinjiang issue, as have other Muslim and developing countries. But it was the only African and Muslim country that voted to the contrary, hence putting the mutual relationship it had with China to the test.

Historically, China and Somalia's relationship has been taken for granted both in the regional and international sense. But the current government seems to be reacting to being singled out by the UN as suppressors of human rights in their quest to fight radical groups in Somalia. I am a strong believer in history determining the future and Somalia must learn and should not be coerced and manipulated for selfish interests.

I think relations between the US, China and some countries in Central Asia are better addressed by these powers. Their interests in this area should not involve dragging developing nations into their conflicts. Insecurity in this region emanates from the diverse culture with citizens not being able to identify themselves with a particular norm. I believe that the US, as proponents and crusaders for human rights, should live and lead by example. They should lead from the front in fighting human rights abuses rather than talking about other countries.

The world has witnessed human rights abuses by the US against others. For example, we have witnessed their roles in human rights abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison, the Guantanamo bay detention camp in Cuba, Kabul International Airport Prison in Afghanistan and even cases in Somalia and Libya.

It is ironic and shameful for Somalia to support the debate especially under a president who was elected on a "Peace at Home, Peace in the World" slogan. It implies that our government has taken sides, hence fueling the tension between China and the US, and forgetting Somalia's future relationship with China. Somalia has more experience than most countries on insecurity and its effects. We have stalled economically, our security is assisted by friendly nations, we are struggling to develop better livelihoods, our children lack identity and of course our government lacks pride among other nations. The big question is, "why is Somalia entering the War of Super Powers?" As a country, we have bigger problems on our shoulders and we shouldn't entangle ourselves with others.

I therefore wish to advise our government to make informed decisions on foreign policy matters. Somalia is a member of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), whose members do not buy into this proposal. Our representatives should have consulted these blocks with an aim of solving the problem rather than fueling it further.

The debate in my opinion was drafted to suppress Chinese influence globally for their detractors' selfish interests. This does not mean Somalia cannot address human rights issues. It is right and just to air its views and make decisions in proven cases like the serious human rights violations against Palestinians in Israel and what has happened to black people in America.

Thus, my advice to a developing country like Somalia is that it should have voted alongside China or abstained in the voting, because it needs more friends than enemies to spur its reconstruction, security and economic development to improve its people's livelihoods. Taking sides jeopardizes our diplomatic efforts as we will be interfering with the internal affairs of China. No nation will take us as seriously as partners. It should be noted that our forefathers built these relations 620 years ago and it will not be in our interest to destroy it overnight.

The author is a Somali businessman.