China and the Islamic World

After Zhai Jun, Assistant Chinese Secretary of State, announced that his country would develop relations with the Islamic World, eyes turned to the country's policies.

China and the Islamic World


By Kadir Temiz, World Bulletin


At a time when China’s economic development is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, two basic approaches towards understanding China are being mentioned. First, the discourse that China’s economic development is based completely on material reasons is the basic claim of researchers who are carving out either a positive or negative place for China. This claim generally emphasizes that China’s stationary social and economic structure that extends from China’s thousands of years old history to the 1980’s has been planned again suitable to global change with reformist advances. And as a manifestation of a progressive perspective, the positive or negative effects of this development on global capitalism are being discussed in regard to topics like food, population, energy, finance, etc.

Secondly, a perspective which is trying to understand China on a more cultural foundation claims that this development is occurring not just for material reasons, but that China has accomplished this as a unique culture through her history, philosophy, religion, social values, customs and traditions. There are positive and negative approaches towards China within the framework of this claim. Together with those who claim that China historically possesses an authoritarian and stationary culture, there are those who claim that China in general has a culture that surpasses debates of Asia societies on modernization and, thus, can produce original answers to new conditions. The second interpretation which is a little more extreme defines Chinese culture with sharper distinctions and plays a role in elevating Chinese nationalism.

Meeting with ICO General Secretary Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu last week, Zhai Jun, Assistant Secretary of State, emphasized that it is necessary to take steps to develop relations between the Islamic world and China. This meeting can, of course, be read as a normal development in a globalizing international system where the relations of big governments have reached a peak level. However, it is possible to evaluate such a relationship as a vehicle to remove current misunderstandings between China and the Islamic world, for China needs such a relationship in order to overcome the theses that claim that China is experiencing growth only due to material reasons. On the other hand, as an idea that sees China’s cultural foundation as necessary in order to understand China and in order to overcome the idea that China can move towards “Chinese nationalism,” such a relationship is necessary.

China has need for a relationship that is both security-based especially for her western neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan and that is independence-centered to allow her to easily transport energy and to facilitate economic relations. As long as a balance is not struck between these two, China knows very well that she will not be comfortable in the region. For this reason, China insistently wants to escape from an environment of conflict and develop a stable relationship. However much China’s relationship with its Central Asian neighbors resembles relations in the Soviet Union system, China’s relationship with this region is based on basically the same motives. For this reason, there is a problem in the center of the security and freedom relation before Muslims in China or her Muslim neighbors in the development of a relationship form with China on a cultural foundation.

Aside from trying to develop a relationship with neighboring countries, China is trying to do the same with the Middle East. Knowing the Middle East more for the conflict between Arab countries and the USA/Israel, the Chinese do not want to become involved in this dangerous area for now, for as long as its needs are met in a secure way by Iran and Saudi Arabia, she thinks she can do her business without becoming a part of cultural and political debates. However, China’s relationship with the Middle East goes much beyond the economic area, for it has a common share with the Middle East on the cultural plane. A solution to the problems Chinese Muslims and Uyghurs face in the field of religious freedoms demands a completely new interpretation of these relationships.

The relationship between China and Islam is not a passing form of relationship that has appeared overnight. It is claimed that there were sahaba who went to China’s southern region upon the death of Prophet Muhammad (sas.) In addition, these relationships which began during the Tang dynasty period allowed for the inevitable development of a relationship between the state and Muslims. In time this relationship caused the appearance of a distinct Chinese ethnic identity with Chinese Muslims being influenced by Confucian and Buddhist elements in China. We can understand from the Chinese style of mosques in modern China that this relationship form was always protected throughout history. In the Yuan dynasty period when the Mongols, beginning with Cengiz Khan, ruled, this relationship which was seriously influenced by Central Asia turned into a relationship that included the Uyghurs as well.

Today together with the modern period’s ideas of nation-state and nationalism, it appears as if there is a need for a new approach that will reinterpret this form of relationship as opposed to the materialist historical interpretations which put forth Chinese Muslims and Uyghurs as a problem that appeared later on. With such an approach, it is possible for condescending conceptualizations and prejudices like “Communism and China – Islam and Terror” on the tongues of both global capitalism and modern nationalist movements to be eliminated. This effort of ICO and China appears to be positive for now. It is probable that discussions of the aspect of this relationship that can be negative which was brought up at the symposium entitled “The Islamic World and China” held at the end of this year will be pulled into daily and sterile discussions.


Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2011, 17:12
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Meat - 10 yıl Before

China currently occupies and is colonizing the Muslim Uyghur land of East Turkistan with serious consequences on the Uyghur Turks. I fail to see how any honest Muslim can come to warm terms with China while it continues this colonization.