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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly refused to acknowledge China's repression of Uyghur Muslims during an interview with "Axios on HBO," deflecting to other global human rights issues and citing China's denial of the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: As one of the most prominent leaders in the Muslim world, Khan has otherwise been leading a public campaign against Islamophobia in the West — especially in Europe. His demurral hints at China's sway over his country.

  • Khan is silent for a simple reason: cash-strapped Pakistan has become increasingly financially dependent on China, for billions in loans and investment.
  • These loans come at a price: the developing countries receiving them better not say anything publicly to incur China’s wrath. 

Between the lines: Khan delivered a powerful speech against Islamophobia at the United Nations and published an open letter urging other Muslim leaders to join his fight.

  • But Khan has been totally silent about China's detention of more than 1 million Muslim minorities just across his border.
  • It's part of a sweeping campaign by China of forced assimilation, forced labor and sterilization that the U.S. and several Western parliaments have deemed a genocide.

What they're saying: Pressed by Axios' Jonathan Swan about why he has been silent, Khan pointed to Beijing's repeated denials of the crackdown in Xinjiang — denials that fly in the face of mountains of witness testimonials, satellite images of detention camps and other evidence.

  • "Whatever issues we have with the Chinese, we speak to them behind closed doors. China has been one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times. When we were really struggling, our economy was struggling, China came to our rescue. So we respect the way they are," Khan said.
  • Asked if it makes him feel "sick" that he must be silent because of the money China has poured into Pakistan, Khan responded: "I look around the world what's happening in Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan. Am I going to start talking about everything? I concentrate on what is happening on my border, in my country."

Flashback: Khan says he will "absolutely not" allow the CIA to use bases in Pakistan for Afghanistan operations.

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