Jakarta – Indonesia was among 19 nations that rejected a motion against China at the United Nations to hold a debate on alleged rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, in a blow to largely Western attempts to antagonize Beijing internationally.
The United States, having labeled China as its strategic rival, has attempted to contain Beijing's influence on a number of fronts, most recently seeking to start a debate based on a report issued late August and led by then-UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet accusing China of committing "crimes against humanity".
But the UN Human Rights Council shot down the draft resolution tabled by the US and a gaggle of allied countries and cosponsors such as Turkey, despite extensive documentation of China's crackdown on those minorities, carried out under the guise of combating terrorism.
The Council rejected the draft decision entitled "debate on the situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China" by a vote of 17 in favor, 19 against and 11 abstentions. China itself voted "no".
Indonesia, in a statement explaining its decision to reject the draft resolution, cited its belief that the approach would "not yield meaningful progress" because the motion "does not enjoy the consent and support of the concerned country".
"The Council should focus on creating a conducive [sic] environment that encourages countries to fulfill their human rights obligations," said Indonesia's permanent representative to the UN, Febrian Ruddyard, at the conclusion of the vote at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The role of the international community, therefore, is to support national-led efforts to make concrete human rights improvement on the ground," he said in video footage taken from the UN Web TV.
However, Indonesia also pledged to be "resolute in its commitment to promote and protect human rights, including in Xinjiang", the envoy added.
During a press briefing in Jakarta on Friday, the Foreign Ministry's director for human rights, Achsanul Habib, explained that there was an understanding among Human Rights Council members representing the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Muslim world's governing body for cooperation, not to let the Council be used as a vehicle to promote "political rivalries".
"[When it came down to a vote] yesterday, supporting the initiative was not in line with our views. There was doubt in the sincerity of the discussion process," he said.
Besides Indonesia, a number of OIC member states such as Pakistan, Somalia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates also voted "no". Among the 11 countries that abstained were India, Malaysia and Ukraine.
Rights groups have accused Beijing of abuses against the Uighurs, including the mass use of forced labor in internment camps. Beijing has denied these accusations.
Amnesty International said the Xinjiang vote betrays the core mission of the Human Rights Council, with Amnesty Secretary-General Agnes Callamard saying that it "puts the UN's main human rights body in the farcical position of ignoring findings of the UN's own human rights office".
The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent UN Security Council member, has been on the Council's agenda.
The event raised political dilemmas for many poor countries in the 47-member council who are loath to publicly defy China for fear of jeopardizing investment, Reuters reports.
Indonesia itself has been closely engaging with China in the relative absence of the US in Southeast Asia, and has blocked Western-led attempts to isolate Beijing in favor of a more inclusive regional order set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
As the most populous Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia's most influential religious groups have also been coy about the alleged human rights abuse suffered by the Uighurs, especially after China organized several tightly-controlled visits for grassroots groups to Xinjiang province in an effort to dispel any doubt about its spotty human rights record.
A senior advisor of the government has also said Indonesia will not meddle in the alleged persecution of Uighurs by China.