Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to condemn the Chinese government’s alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim-majority Uyghur people in Xinjiang in an interview with Axios Sunday.
When pressed on reports of widespread detention and abuse of Uyghurs, Khan said China had been “one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times,” and any conversations with Beijing on Xinjiang would happen “behind closed doors.”
Up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been placed in a sprawling network of detention centers across Xinjiang in recent years, according to the US State Department. Many former detainees allege they were subjected to attempted indoctrination, physical abuse and even sterilization.
But Khan said Beijing had denied reports of widespread abuses of Uyghur Muslims in private conversations with Islamabad.
“We respect the way they are … How come this is such a big issue in the Western world? Why are the people of Kashmir ignored? It is much more relevant,” he said.
The disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir has been the epicenter of an often violent territorial struggle between India and Pakistan.
In 2019, India officially split the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, giving New Delhi greater control over their affairs.
The move followed a security crackdown by New Delhi in Indian-controlled Kashmir, including the suspension of all communications and heavy restrictions on movement and public gatherings.
Islam is Pakistan’s official religion and the country has the second-largest Muslim population in the world.
“I look around the world, what’s happening in Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, am I going to start talking about everything?” Khan added.
Pakistan has been a longtime friend and trading partner of China and has benefited greatly from Chinese infrastructure spending, as part of President Xi Jinping’s global Belt and Road initiative.
Khan’s comments come after he wrote a public letter in October 2020 calling for Muslim countries to rise up against “growing Islamophobia” in Western nations.
Sunday’s interview isn’t the first time Khan has avoided criticizing China on the allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In March 2019, the Pakistani leader told the Financial Times he “didn’t know much” about reports of mass detentions in the far Western Chinese region, which borders his country.
Khan was also questioned by Axios about comments he made in April linking Pakistan’s high incidence of rape to increased “obscenity” in society. “What is the whole concept of the veil in our (Islamic) religion? So there is no temptation in society,” Khan said in the April 5 television interview.
Speaking to Axios, Khan denied he had been blaming rape victims, but then appeared to suggest women’s clothing influences the rate of sexual violence in society.
“If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it’s common sense,” he said.
CNN’s Helen Regan contributed reporting.