Cambodia joined 36 other nations last week to sign a letter in support of China's actions on Uighurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang autonomous region.
Cambodia's position on the matter came when at least 22 Western nations voiced concerns against the “political re-education” camps established by Beijing. More than a million dissidents and Uighur ethnic minorities are reportedly detained in the camp.
The twenty-two democratic nations condemned China's detaining of Uighur and other Muslims in the camps as human rights violations.
Ket Sophann, a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told VOA Khmer via Telegram on Wednesday that Cambodia, along with 36 other nations, has appealed to the UN Council on Human Rights “not to use human rights as a tool to muddle in the internal affairs” of China.
He added that the 37 nations also called on the council “to abide by the norms and practices” which dictate that human rights issues are subjected to each member state's handling in accordance with the realities in each state.
According to the Chinese official newspaper Xinhua published last Friday, the ambassadors from the 37 nations—which included Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Russia and Cuba—sent a joint letter to the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva to express their support for China regarding human rights.
The nations praised China's respect for human rights, noting its “remarkable achievements” by adhering to the people-centered development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development, according to Xinhua.
The newspaper added that Chinese ambassador to the UN thanked the 37 nations at the UN Human Rights Council on Friday for supporting China's policies.
A few days before the letter was sent to OHCHR, 22 democratic nations including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom signed a letter expressing concerns about the “credible reports of arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang and “widespread surveillance and restrictions” particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities.
The 22 signatories also called on China to abide by its national law and its international commitment, including being a member of the UN Security Council.
Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, thinks that taking sides with China regarding the violation of the rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang is leading Cambodia away from the path of human rights and democracy.
In a response to VOA Khmer via email, Sophal believed that Cambodia's stance will have repercussion which could lead to the “loss of EBA, loss of GSP” trade preferences from the EU and the US respectively.
Human Rights Watch released a report showing that since the end of 2016, the Chinese government has subjected around 13 million Uighurs and Muslims in Xinjiang to detention, political engagement, movement restriction, and religious persecution and “more than one million are detained for political reeducation.”
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said that Cambodia's support for China’s stance regarding the rights of Uighur and other Muslims shows that “Cambodia seems to not have the real will to restore democracy or respect human rights.”
In late 2009, some 20 Uighurs were arrested and sent back to China by the Cambodian government ahead of the state visit by then-Vice President Xi Jinping to Cambodia.