On October 15, US Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph R. Donovan Jnr visited one of the country’s largest Muslim organisations, Muhammadiyah, urging its chairman Haedar Nashir to mount pressure on China to end the detention of the Uygur people. It was one of two encounters with major Muslim groups in which Donovan urged them to join Washington’s diplomatic push for China to end the worsening conditions of the Uygurs in northwest Xinjiang. But the US diplomat failed to get the response he was seeking. The United Nations estimates around 1 million Uygurs and people from other largely Muslim minority groups have been detained as part of China’s mass internment programme in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region since early 2017. China has been accused of running re-education camps for the Uygurs but Beijing has denied the claims, calling them vocational training centres. During the meeting, Donovan urged the group “to continue to speak out against the suppression of the Uygur minority in China”. But Muhammadiyah, which has 22.46 million followers, said a visit to Xinjiang in mid-February had proved otherwise. According to a well-known Indonesian media outlet, Liputan6, Donovan held a similar meeting with the chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Executive Board (PBNU), the second largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia with 79.04 million followers, on October 21. During the meeting, Donovan raised the issue of the Uygurs and also called on the PBNU to be more proactive in responding. Mike Pompeo says US ‘deeply troubled’ as China ‘harasses Uygur activists’ families’ Donovan was always unlikely to convince the Muslim groups to back his cause. Indonesia has yet to take an official stand on the Uygur issue and the Southeast Asian nation has said it avoids getting involved in other countries’ problems. Former vice-president Jusuf Kalla has said Indonesia strongly opposes human rights violations, but if the problem was related to other countries, then Jakarta would simply not want to be involved. Indonesia has in the past spoken out against the human rights issues faced by the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, but it has never taken concrete efforts to end the issue. The cautious policy shows just how much emphasis Jakarta places on the role of international organisations, such as the UN or Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to resolve such issues. But there may also be other motivations for Indonesia’s lack of action on the Uygur situation. Indonesia and China have seen increased investment ties since 2015. And the country’s biggest Muslim groups were open about their scepticism towards the West’s accusations against China. The camps in Xinjiang have split the international community. The US has led the charge in condemning Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses, while Russia, Belarus and a number of Middle Eastern and African nations have sided with China. After travelling to Xinjiang to see the state of the ethnic Uygurs for himself, the secretary of the Muhammadiyah Central Leader, Agung Danarto, said the conditions were “comfortable and worth living in”. He insisted the camps provided vocational guidance to “prevent acts of terrorism and radicalism that are developing”. US imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over ‘brutal suppression’ of Uygurs He said the Chinese government was providing skills training in cooking, agriculture and hospitality, and hoped to improve Xinjiang’s economy. Agung also said Beijing respected religious freedom – something that was evidenced by the “23,000 mosques and 27,000 priests” paid for by the government in the region. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia needs to take a position on humanitarian issues – if not to stand up for the Uygurs then to improve its own reputation as a committed defender of human rights. Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno L. Marsudi recently said the country would use its position as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council – where China is a permanent member – to trigger a dialogue around several humanitarian issues. With Marsudi re-elected to office, it might just be the right moment for Indonesia to take such a stand on the Uygur case. But Jakarta could also use other diplomatic platforms to support the Uygurs, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the OIC. Though Asean is a relatively small organisation, it could still yield positive results in terms of putting diplomatic pressure on China. The OIC, meanwhile, might not produce as significant results in the short-term. But these countries have reliable bargaining power with China, and without their cooperation, Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a strategy to boost global trade, cannot be realised. Indonesia could therefore very easily shore up support in the OIC by simply highlighting the plight of the Uygurs in one of the sessions. Jakarta should learn from Gambia, which on behalf of the OIC filed a case on Monday against Myanmar at the UN’s highest court to stop its “genocidal conduct” against Rohingya Muslims.