Turkey's Erdogan in China for talks amid Uighur strains

Turkey's Erdogan in China for talks amid Uighur strains
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to China after securing NATO's backing for Ankara's fight against Islamic State militants, but facing tensions with Beijing over China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority.
3 min read
29 July, 2015
Activists in Istanbul burnt the Chinese flag following anger over the treatment of Uighurs [Getty]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan headed to China on Wednesday after securing NATO's backing for Ankara's fight against Islamic State militants, but facing tensions with Beijing over China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

Ankara is expanding a cross-border campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, and also attacking positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq after deadly attacks inside Turkey.

At the same time China blames Islamist separatists for violence in the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, while Turkey has repeatedly expressed concerns about Beijing's treatment of the minority, who speak a Turkic language.

Erdogan - who meets Chinese President Xi Jinping later Wednesday - in 2009 accused Beijing of "genocide" in the region, and the gap between Chinese and Turkish views of the Uighurs was likely to complicate the discussions.

The two countries engaged in a public row this year over Uighurs who fled China to seek refuge in Thailand, with Turkey offering them shelter against Beijing's wishes.

Thailand said this month that it had deported about 100 Uighurs back to China, after sending more than 170 Uighur women and children to Turkey in late June.

As tensions over the refugees mounted this month, activists stormed the Thai consulate in Istanbul and burnt the Chinese flag outside Beijing's consulate in the city.

China "strongly condemned" the acts.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said in a Wednesday editorial that the "Uighur issue... if left unattended, may poison ties and derail cooperation".

Chinese media have repeatedly cited unnamed sources linking Uighurs to "jihadist" violence in the Middle East, without giving evidence.

In an op-ed in the state-run Global Times writer Wen Dao on Wednesday accused Turkish diplomats of providing "assistance to smuggle Xinjiang Uighur terrorists into the Middle East".

Turkey is a NATO member and on Tuesday the alliance strongly backed Ankara's fight against "terrorism" at an emergency meeting, although some countries expressed concerns that strikes on Kurdish fighters could torpedo peace talks with the rebels, who are bitterly opposed to the jihadists.

Missile talks

Turkey entered discussions in 2013 with a Chinese state-run company over a contract for an anti-missile system worth $3.4 billion, raising eyebrows among other NATO members.

A final deal has been elusive, with Erdogan noting "impediments" have emerged after an initial Chinese proposal, but he said the issue will be on the agenda in Beijing.

"Any offer that will enrich this appropriate proposal will be welcomed by us," he told China's official news agency Xinhua in an interview published Tuesday.

"I believe this visit will give more momentum to bilateral relations," he added.

Boosting Turkish exports to China is also likely to be high among Erdogan's goals, with Turkey running a large trade deficit with the world's second-largest economy, according to official Chinese statistics.

China and Turkey are both trying to increase influence in their respective regions and both are members of the Group of 20 leading advanced and developing economies.

Turkey is hosting this year's G20 summit while China will do so next year and Erdogan told Xinhua they will discuss issues related to the grouping.

Anakara has joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a Chinese initiative aimed at meeting the burgeoning need for roads, dams and transport in Asia.

The United States and Japan, where the AIIB has been regarded with suspicion, have kept their distance despite enthusiasm shown by major Western economies including Germany, France and Britain.

Turkey is also included in the more than 60 Asian, African and European countries along what China has dubbed a "One Belt, One Road" economic corridor on land and sea aimed at building infrastructure and trade links on the ancient Silk Road trade routes.