December 17, 2019 / 11:41 AM / a month ago

Indonesia Muslim groups deny China lobbying sways views on Uighurs

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s biggest Muslim groups have denied that lobbying by Beijing, including tours facilitated by China in Xinjiang, had influenced their stance on the treatment of the region’s Muslim Uighur minority.

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.

China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs. Indonesia has not been as outspoken about the Uighurs as it is on other issues seen as important in the Muslim world, such as the fate of Palestinians.

Abdul Mu’ti, secretary general of Indonesia’s second-biggest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah, denied it had received donations from China during a tour in February to Xinjiang it participated in, and said it opposed “all kinds of human rights violations, everywhere done by anyone towards anyone.”

The Wall Street Journal in a report last week described the tour as part of a campaign to convince Indonesia’s religious authorities and media that re-education camps in Xinjiang were a well-meaning bid to provide job training and fight extremism.

In a news conference on Monday, Mu’ti described as “baseless” any assertions that the views of the group had been influenced after visiting the region.

Savic Ali, website director of Indonesia’s biggest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), also denied the group was influenced by Beijing.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country and NU and Muhammadiyah claim to have about 120 million members between them.

“NU does not have a special relationship with China and NU’s international position isn’t influenced by scholarships or visit invitations,” he said, adding NU did not have complete information on the situation of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Indonesia did express its views on Xinjiang to China.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to involve megaphone diplomacy,” he said in a text message.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor, Wang Yi, had discussed the situation in Xinjiang with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe meeting on Monday in Madrid, Faizasyah said.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Jakarta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner and a major investor and financier of some infrastructure projects.

Aaron Connelly of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore said Indonesia would be wary about antagonising China over Xinjiang because of concerns it “could damage perceptions of Indonesian non-alignment amidst U.S.-China rivalry, or lead China to reduce investment.”

Editing by Ed Davies and Peter Graff

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