Taming the dragon

Taming the dragon

It’s a popular Black Sea (Laz) joke from the 1970s: One day, the town of Rize declares war on China. Locals cheerfully celebrate the forthcoming victory with festivities day and night. A few days later, the town council decides to withdraw the declaration of war. The festivities stop and locals adopt a sorrowful mood at having missed the chance to defeat and invade China. Crowds go to the town hall demanding an explanation. The president explains: “I am sorry that we withdrew the declaration of war on China. But we realized that we missed an important point about war with China: Where are we going to bury all those Chinese?”   

In these bizarre days when nationalist Turks, in protest at China’s ill-treatment of Uighur Muslims, have attacked even Uighurs mistaking them for Chinese, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office has announced that the president is going to China. “Erdoğan’s surprise visit” one of his many Pravdas declared the other day. But why? “He is going there to warn China,” it answered. Very important Chinese men in Beijing must be shaking in terror: The savior of all the oppressed Muslims of the world is coming to China to warn them! 

In 2009 when violence erupted in China’s Xinjiang province, home to Muslim Uighurs, Mr. Erdoğan said the deaths of nearly 200 of his Turkic kin amounted to “near genocide.” Turkey showed its muscles immediately. Then-Trade and Industry Minister Nihat Ergün called for a national boycott on Chinese products. The call yielded fruit immediately. Between 2009 and 2014 Turkey’s imports from China doubled to $24.9 billion.  

But China’s 10 million or so Uighurs can now sigh with relief: Mr. Erdoğan is taking all the trouble to fly to China to warn the Communist Party that it should treat the Uighurs better. Otherwise, China will suffer the consequences. Another Turkish boycott on Chinese goods could raise Turkish imports from China to $50 billion by 2020.  

But let’s hope that Mr. Erdoğan’s advisers can control his anger at the Chinese who restrict Uighurs’ religious practices, including fasting during Ramadan. It could be catastrophic if the president threatened to veto China’s long-sought membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It might be a good idea as well if Mr. Erdoğan’s advisers reminded him that Turkey is not yet one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Maybe in a couple of years’ time, at the latest.  

But why are the 10 million or so Uighur Muslims facing restrictions on practising their faith while 10 million or so Hui Muslims in China live in peace and practise Islamic commandments as they wish? Any restriction on free practice of religion is by definition bad. Like, for instance, Turkey’s stubborn refusal to recognize Alevis’ prayer houses. But fortunately, we do not have “Alevi terrorism” because of that. In contrast: 

July 18, 2011: Eighteen Uighurs in Hotan perpetrate coordinated knife and bomb attacks and occupy a police station: Four dead, four injured. 

July 30, 2011: Uighurs commit a series of knife and bomb attacks in Kashgar: Fifteen dead, 42 injured. 

Oct. 28, 2013: An SUV driven by Uighurs crash into a crowd in Tiananmen Square: Five dead, 38 injured. 

March 1, 2014: Eight Uighurs attack civilians at Kunming Railway Station: Twenty-eight dead, 143 wounded. 

Apr. 30, 2014: Two assailants attack passengers by detonating explosives at the Urumqi Railway Station: Three dead, 79 injured. 

May 28, 2014: Five assailants in two SUVs throw explosives at shoppers at a street market in Urumqi: Thirty-nine dead, 90 plus injured.  

And the latest wave of violence in the increasingly customary “now-it’s-Ramadan-so-let’s-kill-each-other” absurdity was sparked after a car, driven by suspicious Uighurs, escaped a police checkpoint. It was then followed by Chinese police officers who were stabbed to death by the occupants of the car. The ensuing violence has claimed 18 to 28 lives, according to different accounts.   

Now, after all the annual Xinjiang blood spilt, China says it has no ethnic Uighur problem. Sound familiar? Remember Mr. Erdoğan saying that there is no ethnic Kurdish problem in Turkey?