China is a leading oppressor of Muslims, so it should come as no surprise that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia — the kingdom that views itself as defender of the Islamic faith — would visit Beijing to deliver a stern rebuke.
After all, China has penned an estimated 1 million Muslims into concentration camps in western China. It has sent ethnic Han Chinese to live with Muslim families and report on anyone who refuses to eat pork or shave his beard. It is wrenching children from parents to reprogram them away from their faith and culture in mass orphanages.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have had a lot to say when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping late last week.
Wait, what’s that you say? The prince had nothing to say on behalf of China’s Muslims? In fact, he defended what China calls an effort to fight extremism?
Yes, that is in fact what happened. And the reason is simple: In return, China defended Saudi Arabia’s right to orchestrate a murder and get away with it.
Your concentration camps are your internal affair. My conspiracy to commit murder is my internal affair. How nice, we understand each other.
It has been nearly five months since Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, murdered and dismembered. Little accountability has been achieved since then.
It is not that little has been discovered about the crime. Despite a shifting series of lies from the Saudi government, we know quite a lot.
We know that the crown prince, who is second in command to his father, King Salman, told a top aide a year before the killing that he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi if the exiled journalist did not return to Saudi Arabia and stop criticizing the Saudi regime.
We know that when Khashoggi visited the consulate to take care of some paperwork, he was instructed to return on a set day the following week. We know that the Saudi government then sent two planeloads of 15 officials, including close aides to Mohammed, to Istanbul. One was a forensic expert who came equipped with a bone saw.
We know that when Khashoggi entered the consulate, this hit squad instructed the consul to leave his office. He left and has not been publicly heard from since.
We know, thanks to Turkish eavesdropping, that Khashoggi was then gruesomely murdered. We know that when Turkey tried to investigate the crime, Saudi Arabia barred police from the consulate until it had a chance to hose it down and scour it of any possible evidence.
Now Saudi Arabia says it will put some officials on trial for the murder. It will not say who, but it is clear that henchmen, not ringleaders, are at risk. If executions occur, they will be more likely used to eradicate witnesses than deliver justice.
For all this knowledge, the consequences so far have been modest. President Trump, in defiance of U.S. law, refuses to report to Congress on the administration’s conclusions regarding Mohammed’s culpability. Congress so far has taken no action to insist that Trump follow the law — or that Mohammed be punished for this crime. The U.N. secretary general has been similarly inert.
Still, it would not be right to say that the regime is paying no price in the West. Mohammed bin Salman, who toured triumphantly through U.S. business and academic capitals not long before the murder, knows he would not be welcome now. Think tanks, universities, even businesses to varying degrees understand that public association with the regime is no longer a smart marketing strategy. Congress has expressed misgivings about the Saudis’ brutal war in Yemen and their nuclear ambitions, and it may yet have something to say about the Khashoggi murder. The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions is investigating.
So the crown prince turned east. He understood that human rights violators generally find absolution in Beijing. And he must have understood that if he, as guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites, absolved China of its anti-Muslim depradations, he would be especially welcome.
After all, it was only a fortnight ago that the Turkish government, which is competing with Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Muslim world, broke its long silence to criticize the repression of Muslim Uighurs in western China. “It is no longer a secret that more than 1 million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing,” a Turkish spokesman said.
There was no such rudeness from the crown prince on Friday. You can have your concentration camps. I can have my murder.