Will Turkey ratify extradition treaty with China?
This year, Turkey and China are set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, with hopes to further improve economic and trade relations. China is already Turkey’s top trade partner in Asia with around $20 billion trade volume.
Relations between the two countries have rapidly developed after Ankara and Beijing elevated their ties to the level of strategic cooperation in 2010. Turkey has become an active partner of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Project as a country strategically linking Asia to Europe.
In this context, the first train carrying goods from Turkey to China completed its 12-day journey in late December, a development seen as a major milestone. Turkey and China will complete more transportation projects in the coming period in a bid to further endorse business and trade between the two countries.
Turkish-Chinese cooperation is not limited to trade. Turkey benefited from the Chinese satellite technology in its endeavors to develop its own infrastructure through an effective research and development methodology.
A very recent example of this multifaceted bilateral cooperation is being observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. China has agreed to export vaccine to Turkey and the first batch already been supplied.
This introduction on the Turkish-Chinese cooperation was necessary to explain the dilemma Turkey is facing while carrying out such ambitious cooperation with one of the world’s top economies. The source of this dilemma is China’s policies towards Uighur Turks following the adoption of “Sinification of All Religions and Beliefs” policy in 2017.
The well-being and situation of the Uighur Turks in China have always been a concern to Turkey and the Turkish public due to strong ethnic and religious bonds. Plus, Turkey is home to tens of thousands of Uighur Turks, making the country the biggest hub of Uighur diaspora in the world.
A written statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in early 2019 had accused China of imposing “torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons” as part of systematic assimilation of the Uighur Turks was clearly one of the harshest reactions shown by Ankara. The reason why Turkey-China ties came back to the world’s agenda is the fact that the latter has ratified 2017-dated bilateral agreement for the extradition and is now expecting the same from the Turkish Parliament.
The Treaty of Extradition between Turkey and China was signed on May 13, 2017 in Beijing by the two countries’ justice ministers. The treaty was submitted to parliament by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 12, 2019. It was sent to the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on May 8, 2019 but it has not been brought to the panel’s agenda since then. There are expectations that the treaty will likely to be brought to the committee once parliament resumes its works late January or February.
This matter was raised to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during his lengthy year-end press conference with journalists last week. Çavuşoğlu said it was up to the Turkish Parliament to ratify it or not but he made the point that the “ratification of the deal does not mean that the government will extradite all the Uighurs demanded by the Chinese government.”
To explain, the minister briefly cited articles 3 and 4 of the treaty which detail the mandatory and discretionary grounds of the refusal of the extradition demands:
-Extradition shall be refused if the requested party considers that the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense or that the requested party has granted asylum to the person sought.
-Extradition shall be refused if the requested party has substantial ground for believing that the request for extradition has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person sought on account of that person’s race, sex, religion, nationality or political opinion.
On this occasion, Çavuşoğlu has also clarified how Turkey regards the situation in the Xinjiang province of China. “We bring our sensitivities about the Uighur Turks on every occasion, we did it even while we were seeking export license for the vaccine. We tell them that we want to send a delegation. Pandemic is slowly coming to an end. We propose cooperation for the delegation we want to dispatch that will investigate the situation of Uighur Turks. We don’t use Uighurs politically, we see it as a defense of human rights.”
Turkey acknowledges China’s right to fight terror but a distinction must be made between terrorists and innocent people, Çavuşoğlu said, adding, “In other words, we do not accept persecuting innocent people on the pretext of fighting terrorism.”
Given this complexity, Turkey may face pressure from both Beijing to ratify and implement the deal and the global and national human rights advocates not to ratify it. Plus, the conservative political groups and opposition parties will also voice their opposition to the ratification of the deal. Days ahead will show how the government will tackle the dilemma.