Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has supported China’s right to undertake “anti-terrorism” and “de-extremism” measures, according to Chinese state media, in remarks activists lambasted as a defence of Beijing’s crackdown on its Uighur Muslim minority.
Prince Mohammed made the comments to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, Chinese state media reported, during a visit to Beijing, the last leg of an Asian tour that included Pakistan and India.
In his talks with Xi, MBS hailed relations with China as trouble free, the official Xinhua news agency said, while Xi urged joint efforts to counter extremism and terror.
Xi told the crown prince the two countries must strengthen international cooperation on de-radicalisation to “prevent the infiltration and spread of extremist thinking”, according to Xinhua
Saudi Arabia respected and supported China’s right to protect its own security and take counter-terror and de-radicalisation steps, the crown prince told Xi, according to the same report, and was willing to increase cooperation.
“China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security,” MBS was quoted as saying by the state-owned CCTV.
“Saudi Arabia respects and supports it and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China,” he added.
Riyadh has remained silent over China’s treatment of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the far-western region of Xinjiang. That’s despite the ruling Al Saud family’s image of itself as the defender of Muslims across the world and protector of Islam’s two holiest shrines.
Up to one million Uighurs and other minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang as part of a draconian and anti-separatist campaign, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.
Activists slammed MBS’ stand, with Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for Britain’s Muslim Council, calling the remarks “disgusting” and a defence of “the use of concentration camps against Uighur Muslims”.
The World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based advocacy group, said MBS’ failure to raise the issue of the Uighur detentions amounted to tacit support for “China’s gross rights violations”.
The Saudi crown prince’s visit came five months after the crown prince came under intense pressure in the US and elsewhere following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. In the US Congress, criticism has also been building for months over the kingdom’s handling of the war in Yemen, where it is accused of causing widespread casualties and suffering among civilians.
China has refrained from faulting Saudi Arabia over issues such as the war or killing of the journalist, in keeping with its long-held tradition of non-interference in other countries’ affairs.
The hush-hush approach reflects how China and Saudi Arabia have grown close over the past decade based on complementary economic interests, said Michael Clarke of Australian National University’s National Security College.
“Basically, in the Saudi case there seem to be very clear incentives for it to not rock the boat in service of the Uighur issue,” Clarke told The Associated Press news agency.
During MBS’ visit to China, Riyadh’s national oil giant Saudi Aramco said it had signed an agreement to form a Saudi-Chinese joint venture, worth more than $10bn, to develop a refining and petrochemical complex in northeastern Liaoning province.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority also announced the signing of 35 non-binding memorandums of understanding, worth $28bn, including deals related to energy, mining, transportation and e-commerce.
China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner.