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Pakistan, China’s closest ally in the Muslim world, openly criticized its treatment of its Uighur population, a majority-Muslim ethnic minority living in the western Chinese region in Xinjiang, earlier this week.

It marks the strongest condemnation of China’s repression of the population yet.

Noorul Haq Qadri, Pakistan’s federal minister for religious affairs, warned that Beijing’s strict regulation of Uighur activity fuels extremism rather than counters terrorism, Pakistani media reported.

“The placement of restrictions increases the chances of an extremist viewpoint growing in reaction,” Qadri told China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Xing, on Wednesday according to Dawn newspaper.

His comments directly challenge China’s justification of its crackdown on Xinjiang — known to Uighurs as East Turkestan — which are that it counters terrorism and is “training” target=”_blank” people to avoid religious extremism.

Qadri on Wednesday also called for a softer approach from Beijing to curb intolerance and promote religious harmony in Xinjiang, Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper reported.

He also proposed for Pakistani religious scholars to visit Xinjiang.

Yao appeared to agree, reportedly saying: “Exchange of viewpoints between religious scholars of both countries is vital for better interfaith relations.”

Yao also invited Qadri to visit China, Dawn reported, although it’s not clear whether this would entail a trip to Xinjiang.

Rights activists in turn have accused China of imprisoning up to 1 million Uighurs in detention centers or re-education camps, and citing bogus excuses — from changing the time on a watch to growing a beard — for doing so.

Li Xiaojun, a spokesman for China’s state council information office, told reporters last week that sending Uighurs to detention centers was “not mistreatment,” but “to establish professional training centers, educational centers.”

“If you do not say it’s the best way, maybe it’s the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism,” Li said, according to Reuters. “Because the West has failed in doing so, in dealing with religious Islamic extremism.” Read more

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