Stephanie Char

Columbia University, Political Science, Ph.D. candidate
Coauthors and affiliations
Third-party deterrence, economic coercion, human rights criticism, Malaysia, China
Why has Malaysia remained silent on human rights violations in Xinjiang, in contrast to Malaysia’s vocal criticism of other states? China’s reputation for countercriticism coercion, or threats and sanctions over verbal criticism, is a vital and overlooked explanation for the lack of widespread criticism of China over rights violations in Xinjiang. Third-party states like Malaysia, which have not been directly threatened or sanctioned by China, were deterred by observing past instances of China’s sanctions against select targets. Malaysia refrained from publicly criticizing China from 2019 to 2022, while simultaneously criticizing India, Israel, Myanmar, and the United States over their treatment of domestic Muslim minority populations and after criticizing China in 2009. Based on these comparisons and as corroborated by government statements, Malaysia was deterred from criticizing China over the situation in Xinjiang. Drawing on media coverage in Malaysian and international newspapers and elite interviews, I find that Malaysian policymakers interpreted news about China’s tacit sanctions against other states as China’s punishment of criticism, believed that China would punish Malaysia over similar behavior, and deliberately chose to remain silent on Xinjiang in order to avert sanctions by China. Economic considerations independent of China’s reputation for countercriticism coercion, namely China’s economic power, Malaysia’s dependence on China, or potential gains from the Belt and Road Initiative, are insufficient to explain Malaysia’s silence. Malaysia has vocally criticized the United States, another powerful country that Malaysia has historically been economically dependent on. Other possible explanations based on the rhetoric of China and China’s critics, domestic political incentives, and individual leaders’ characteristics also fail to account for the gap in Malaysia’s criticism of other baselines in comparison to silence on Xinjiang in 2019-22.
Preferred audiences (pick two)
North America
Effectiveness of Countercriticism Coercion by China: Third-Party Deterrence of Malaysia