Turkey PM meets China's Wen after Xinjiang trip
BEIJIN - Agence France-Presse
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) review the Chinese military honor guards during the welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, April 9, 2012. AFP PhotoTurkey's Prime Minister discussed the Syrian crisis with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing today after an unprecedented stopover in the Asian nation's ethnically-tense Xinjiang region.
Ankara has in the past heavily criticised Beijing's actions in Xinjiang -- home to mainly Muslim Uighurs who complain of repression under Chinese rule -- but the two nations have nevertheless forged closer ties in recent years.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on the first official trip to China by a Turkish premier in 27 years, held talks on Syria and Iran in Beijing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Monday after a brief stopover in the northwestern region.
At the start of the meeting, Wen said Erdoğan was the first Turkish Prime Minister to have visited Xinjiang -- whose roughly nine million Uighurs share linguistic and religious links with Turkey.
He said Erdoğan had left a "good impression" there but gave no further details about the stopover in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, which analysts say is significant given Ankara's past criticism.
Erdoğan was the most vocal foreign leader to criticize China following deadly riots in July 2009 in Urumqi that saw at least 184 people killed.
At the time, he urged China to stop the "assimilation" of the Uighur minority, and blamed Beijing for failing to stop the ethnic violence, which he compared to a "genocide." The Xinjiang stopover "is quite unexpected as... it's very difficult for Turkish diplomats to go to Xinjiang, they don't easily get the authorization as they speak a similar language (to Uighurs)," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, politics professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University.
"It shows that in the Sino-Turkish relationship, Turkey is not in a weak position, and is even in a strong position," he said, adding China needs Turkey's support in the Middle East.
During their closed-door talks, the two leaders touched on the crisis in Syria as well as global tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear activities, China's state television reported, without giving further details.
The army in Syria is due to withdraw from protest cities Tuesday under a peace deal brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later.
But the Damascus regime has since said it will only carry out its side of the bargain if rebels first hand over written guarantees to stop fighting -- a demand rejected by rebel army chief Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad.
Turkey and China both hold different positions on the conflict in Syria, where pro-democracy protests have been brutally repressed for more than a year.
Erdoğan, once an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has threatened to take action should Damascus fail to comply with the Annan plan. China rejects any foreign interference in the country's internal affairs.
Iran, meanwhile, confirmed today that nuclear talks with world powers would take place in Istanbul as planned on Saturday despite a sharp-worded row with Turkey.
Last week, Iranian officials said Turkey's support of the opposition in Syria -- Iran's chief ally -- excluded Istanbul as a venue. They proposed Baghdad or Beijing instead, but today came round to using the Turkish city.
The two countries -- whose mutual trade has soared from just $1 billion in 2000 to $19.5 billion in 2010 -- will also sign a series of deals later on today.