Ex-diplomat expresses concern at non-interference policy over Uighurs

Former ambassador Dennis Ignatius has criticised Malaysia’s China policy and remarks by foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

PETALING JAYA: A former ambassador has described as “a huge victory for China” the federal government’s stand to stay silent about the treatment of Uighur Muslims, which he said would have huge implications on Malaysia’s foreign policy.

Dennis Ignatius, who previously served as a diplomat in Beijing, said expressing concern over human rights abuses was not tantamount to meddling.

The non-interference principle, he said, can never be interpreted as giving any government “carte blanche to do whatever it likes”.

Ignatius said if refraining from expressing concerns over such abuses were policy, the government would have to also keep silent on abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the crisis in Kashmir.

He said Malaysia would also have to stay silent over Islamophobia.

“It effectively silences our voices on many human rights issues,” he told FMT.

And this, Ignatius said, would mean that despots and dictators would then have “a free hand to do whatever they want to their own people, Muslim and non-Muslim”.

Putrajaya’s silence was “a shameful abrogation of our international responsibilities and a huge victory for China”, he said. “If this is our policy, why bother to even sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council?”

Ignatius said it was hypocritical to criticise small countries like Myanmar over the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya while keeping quiet when powerful countries like China committed “egregious human rights violations”.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said recently that Malaysia would not interfere in China’s internal affairs despite the country acknowledging the persecution of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group.

Ignatius said all countries had a moral obligation to speak out when human rights are abused in any part of the world.

Mahathir’s view on the Uighurs meant that his speech at the UN last year about respecting human rights “was just a sham”, Ignatius said.

“It is also symptomatic of the inconsistent and erratic foreign policy of the Pakatan Harapan government.”

The Chinese government has been accused of oppressing the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, with international media outlets reporting on concentration camps – which Beijing calls “training camps” – to rehabilitate “militants”.

As many as a million, or 7% of Muslims in Xinjiang, have been sent to such camps, according to a UN report.

KL Summit explanation ‘not credible’

Ignatius also criticised as “not credible” an explanation given by Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah about the recently concluded Kuala Lumpur Summit.

When clarifying the summit’s initiative and objectives to his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, pertaining to the participation of two Moroccan organisations, Saifuddin had said the event was an initiative of Malaysian NGOs and the participation of any individual or organisation did not “infer recognition by the Malaysian government”.

The two organisations were Attawhid wa Al Islah and Al Adl wa Al Ihsan.

Ignatius said Malaysia may have upset Morocco by inviting these two groups, with apparent militant jihadist ties, to the summit.

“Saifuddin’s explanation is simply not credible. After all, it was fully funded and organised by the government and his argument that participation does not equate to recognition makes little sense as well,” Ignatius said.

He said the incident showed the organisers had failed to adequately vet participants and “do their homework in advance of a major international summit”.