Turkey tells China to respect rights, freedoms of Uighur Turks
One of last week’s important diplomatic activities took place in Ankara on the occasion of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit. China’s top diplomat met President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on March 25 as part of a large regional tour that includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf countries.
In brief, three main titles came to the fore on the Turkish-Chinese agenda: The bilateral political and economic relations on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties; cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, as China is Turkey’s main vaccine supplier, and the Uighur problem.
The past decade has observed a rapid development in the bilateral ties after Ankara and Beijing elevated their ties to the level of strategic cooperation in 2010. In line with its Asia Anew policy, Turkey sees great potential in further improving economic and trade ties with China as its top trade partner with around $20 billion trade volume.
According to a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry following the minister’s meeting in Ankara, President Erdoğan expressed the message that “Turkey looks forward to increasing Turkey-China high-level exchanges, boosting mutual trust, making good use of the existing cooperative mechanisms, promoting the synergy between its Middle Corridor project and the Belt and Road Initiative, enhancing cooperation in the fields including connectivity, infrastructure construction, and investment, seeking more balanced development of bilateral trade, and encouraging local currency settlement.”
The same statement echoed China’s will to deepen ties with Turkey as Wang Yi was quoted as saying, “The two countries should further promote the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Middle Corridor project, strengthen cooperation in the high tech sectors including 5G, artificial intelligence, big data and digital economy, and make solid progress in major projects to seek win-win results. China will encourage more Chinese enterprises to import quality products from Turkey and increase the investment in Turkey.”
The second title the two sides discussed was the need for the continued supply of Chinese vaccine to Turkey in line with the contracts. President Erdoğan, speaking to the reporters on March 26, raised the fact that China is yet to fulfill its commitments and deliver the full 100 million doses of vaccine.
“I thoroughly discussed this issue with the foreign minister of China. The first agreement we reached with China was actually for 100 million doses of the Chinese vaccine. [Some] 50 million doses were to be received in the first phase.
However, these 50 million doses are yet to arrive. These 50 million doses were set to be delivered to us by the end of February. We reminded them of this issue yesterday again,” he said.
The Chinese statement was limited to expressing Beijing’s willingness to work with Turkey on this field as Wang Yi said, “China is ready to continue to provide help for Turkey in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and fully release the positive energy of the vaccine cooperation between the two nations.”
The coming days and weeks will show how many new doses Turkey will supply from China as this delivery will play a crucial role in the country’s efforts to inoculate a good majority of the population before the summer.
The third and most contentious issue was the Chinese policy towards the Uighur Turks in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. As known, Turkey has always been vocal against the Sinification of Uighurs under a comprehensive plan since 2017.
Inevitably, this issue occupied a good time in the Chinese-Turkish conversation last week. It was difficult to get an insight into how the leaders discussed this issue as there was no press conference following the meetings. But Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said on Twitter that he “conveyed our sensitivity and thoughts on Uyghur Turks.”
According to the diplomatic sources who spoke with this columnist, Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu both raised the issue in their talks based on Turkey’s special ethnic, religious and cultural bonds with the Uighur Turks. They have underscored Turkey’s wish to see that Uighur Turks live in full comfort and prosperity as the equal citizens of China while expressing how Turkey attaches importance to the fundamental rights and liberties of the Uighur Turks.
“We have pointed out that we disapprove of China’s approach towards the situation in Xinjiang Autonomous Region as a fight against terrorism, extremism and separatism,” the sources said.
Turkey is not joining the international condemnation of the situation in Xinjiang but is conveying its national assessment about it, the sources recalled, reiterating Ankara’s willingness to address this issue in a constructive way and through dialogue with Beijing.
As well known, expectations that China will change its policies on Uighur Turks are low. Plus, Beijing wants Turkey to ratify the Treaty of Extradition signed in 2017, a move that could put the government at the core of human rights’ criticisms. What complicates the picture is that China is still Turkey’s largest vaccine supplier.
Turkey will surely continue to raise the dire situation of the Uighur Turks as was observed last week. But, at the same time, it will avoid making its concerns a part of the international human rights campaign driven by the Western powers so that it keeps communication channels open with China.