By Yusuf Jameel
China may soon follow in the US and Russia footsteps. In a noteworthy development which is likely to leave a major impact on the region’s political scene, Beijing has officially desired to be made an observer member of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Jeddah (Saudi Arabia)-based 57-member group of Islamic nations.
China’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Jhaa Jane, told visiting OIC Secretary General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in Beijing on Wednesday that his country desired to obtain the observer member status at the group. “He expressed his country’s desire to know the list of criteria required for becoming an Observer Member in the OIC, voicing hope that China could get this membership in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Djibouti,” a spokesperson for Mr. Ihsanoglu told this correspondent.
On Thursday, in his address to the International Congress on “China and Muslim World: Cultural Interactions” convened at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, OIC Secretary Gerneral Mr. Ihsanoglu said that it (OIC) recognizes and respects that China “is a unitary multi-national state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities, and the state protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities and upholds and develops the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of the country’s nationalities.” He expressed his hope that today and in the future all the Chinese people enjoy their cultural rights and religious freedoms to practice their beliefs and added that it was notable that the Chinese authorities are promoting economic, political, cultural and social progress as well as ecological protection of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region with a goal to bring its regional per capita GDP up to the national average level by 2015.
He recalled that the OIC and China “share common positions on many international issues and share concern regarding peace and prosperity in the Middle East region,” the spokesperson said.
If Beijing’s call is conceded, it will leave a huge impact on the region’s political and diplomatic panorama as despite having the historic, strategic, economical and cultural relationship with many OIC countries particularly those in the Gulf and also being the second largest Muslim populated nation after Indonesia India has not been in any healthy terms with the group mainly because of the traditional disputes with Pakistan. It has openly hit out at the OIC for supporting UN demands for a plebiscite in Kashmir. Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of pro-freedom Kashmiri parties and groups, is an observer member of the OIC.
New Delhi was a part of the Islamic Summit Conference held at Rabat in September 1969, which led to the birth of the OIC. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was personally instrumental in having India invited to the Conference. He accepted the argument that the desecration of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, was a matter of concern to all Muslims, not merely to “Muslim states” and that India, with its very large Muslim population of 120 million, was entitled to be concerned.
However, since the gathering was an inter-governmental one, only the Government of India could be invited. Consequently, India participated in the third session of the Conference, on the afternoon of September 23. The Chairman of the Conference, King Hasan of Morocco, interrupted the scheduled order of speakers to give the floor “to the Ambassador of India who is representing his country after the Conference has decided that India should be represented.” The speech of the Indian delegate forms part of the official transcript of the Conference. However, Pakistan, an important member of the group, objected to India’s presence, resulting in the exclusion of the Indian delegation from the subsequent sessions of the Conference and subsequently it was banished from OIC. The Pakistan Foreign Office argued that India’s inclusion in OIC would be against the rules of OIC, which state that an aspirant should not have an ongoing conflict with a member state.
King Hassan, in his capacity as the chairman of OIC decided to withdraw the invitation extended to Indians and bar the Indian delegation from entering Morocco. Furthermore, the Declaration of the Conference showed them as “Representatives of Muslim Community of India.” In fact, subsequent delegation to OIC from India, led by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, did not make it beyond Rome. No invitations were extended to India in subsequent years and the domestic political backlash of the Rabat incident persuaded most people in India to wish away the OIC and its activities.
But now the desire within the country and by some of the friendly member nations to end India’s isolation in the OIC is growing. A few political voices and former diplomats in India also openly acknowledge the need of seeking engagement with the group. The argument for seeking a limited association via an observer status to begin with is; if the US and Russia (and now possibly also China) can have an observer status at the OIC, why not India.
Meanwhile, reports from Beijing said that OIC has urged Beijing to use its influence and relations with Myanmar towards ensuring safety and protection of the rights of minority Rohingya Muslims in the light of recent violence perpetrated against them.
The OIC Secretary General who is on a two-day visit to China, his second since summer of 2010, is expected to meet with a number of Chinese officials, and will officiate the first OIC Congress on China and the Muslim World. At his meeting with China’s deputy foreign minister on Wednesday, the latter on behalf of his country pledged to enhance the economic and cultural relations with Islamic countries, pointing out that China enjoys high confidence by the OIC member States, in particular for its support for the crucial issues in the Middle East and the rights of these countries in international forums.
He was quoted as saying that the Islamic countries are amongst the most important global trading partners for China, pointing out that the volume of trade exchange between the two sides reached half a trillion dollars in 2011 ranking second place after the European Union.
For his part, Mr. Ihsanoglu stressed the need for strengthening economic and cultural relations, on the one hand, between the OIC and its member states and, on the other, with China. He pointed out to the Organization’s interest in developing joint programs to work out with the Chinese government similar to those programs that the OIC is collaborating on with the United States such as in the field of Maternal and Child Health Care.
The Secretary General also urged the Chinese counterpart on the need to pay more attention to the cultural character of the historic city of Kashgar located in western China and known for its history, heritage and Islamic culture. The Chinese minister assured him his country was keen on the development of this region and preserve places of worship in the city and its cultural character. He also told the visiting OIC official that Chinese companies were interested in Dakar – Port railway project in Sudan, announced by the OIC during the Dakar summit in 2008.