Uighur problem in Turkish-Chinese relations - Did Erdogan betray to Uighurs? | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

21 September, Saturday

Uighur problem in Turkish-Chinese relations - Did Erdogan betray to Uighurs?

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Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, following G20 Summit in Japan. Erdogan's statements during the visit were discussed widely on the mass media. According to Chinese media Erdogan said "It is a fact that China's citizens in Xinjiang have a happy life in the well-being and development of China". Turkey will never allow anyone to break Chinese-Turkish relations. Turkey is against radicalism and intends to strengthen mutual political trust with China and expand cooperation in security and economy.

There was no reaction of Erdogan to the statement reported in Chinese media. He was rebuked by nationalist groups in Turkey. A new question emerged in the Turkic world "Did Erdogan betray to Uighurs?"

On February 2019, Turkish Foreign Minister Movlud Chavushoglu stated his worries about the break of human rights of Turkic and Muslim minorities. Chavushoglu's statement was condemned by Chinese authorities.

What is the Uighur problem?

Uighur problem is considered as the main problem of the Turkic world like Karabakh, Crimea and Kirkuk. This problem was discussed much time by the Turkic world by the emphisizing violation of human rights and pressures of Uighurs.

In 1944 independent Uighur republic was established by the help of Russia. When the communist regime seized power in China, it led the improvements in the relations with China. After the 6-years resistance against China, they failed and Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomus Region was established in 1955.

There are 3 main points of the conflict:

  • Uighur Turks demand the establishment of an independent state by the restoration of historic statehood traditions in East Turkestan, where they live compactly;

  • China, especially after the collapse of the USSR, is oppressing and repressing Uighur Turks in order to deter the growing trend of independence in the region;

  • According to information released by CNN in 2017, China has arrested millions of Uighur Turks during decades without any ground or sent to concentration camps, which has no different from Hitler's Nazi death camps. Moreover, in the last 30 years, the Chinese regime has committed mass slaughters and massacres against Uighur Turks. Examples of these are the events of Kashgar, Barin (5,000 Uighurs were killed), Gülce events (around 100 Uighurs were killed) and Urumqi events (about 1,000 Uighurs were killed).

According to the statistics of Chinese activist group the Xinjiang holds the 21% of overall arrest in China. In 1953, 75% of the population in Xinjiang was Uighurs, but after 50 years the percent declined to 46%. Uighurs condemned and protested against Chinese demographic policy.

China fears the resistance among Muslim Uighurs. That's why China attempted to press Muslim Uighurs in the region and made them loyal to the communist regime.

Xinjiang-Uighur province has special importance to China. The total area of the province is 1.65 million km2. The region is rich with natural resources. Xinjiang-Uighur owns total production of 30% of oil, 33%of natural gas, 44% coal.

The region located in the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and India. It is also near to Tibet, another conflicted region of China. China fears the spread of resistance into Tibet.

It has a strategic position by location on the Silk Way. The province has a special importance fo Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Because one of the main 3 strategic roads towards Eurasia, north corridor (China-Central Asia-Russia-Europe) crosses from Xinjiang. For this reason, maintenance of stability is a priority for China.

How the Uighur problem affects China-Turkey relations?

The history of Turkish-Chinese relations has no deep past roots, it starts from 70s-80s. But the 90s are not the ideal for the relations between both sides. China deconstructed Uighur mosque in Kashgar in 1990. Turkish harsh position on Uighur problem influenced badly to China. 12,000 people were arrested and 5,000 was killed.

The massacre was hardly condemned by Turkey. After the collapse of USSR, Turkey targeted independent Turkic states and took a sensitive position over there. The rise of Turkish economic problems and Chinese economic development, make a cooperation with China more attractive. Especially, in 1995, Turkey didn't give asylum for 150 Uighurs and deported 13 Uighur intellectuals.

Since 1995, China has started to play a Kurdish card against Turkey. Turkey is facing a very serious strategic choice: either by cooperating with China, it will put aside the Turkic homicide or, ultimately, continue to protect Turks ...

Turkey was ready to cooperate with China, and this time the Gulce massacre took place in 1997. About 100 Uighur Turks were killed. Demonstrations were held in front of the Chinese Embassy, the Chinese flags burned. It happened when Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was on the official trip to China. Ecevit stated that China has to pay attention to the protection of human rights of Uighurs.

In 1998, Turkey first time ever, recognized Xinjiang as the territory of China. 

Turkey made a fine balance in Chinese politics when Erdogan came to power in the 2000s. On the other hand, trade turnover with China kept increasing day by day, but Turkey has also not hesitated to voice the problem of Uighur.

In 2009, 1000 Uighurs killed in Urumqi. Erdogan called this massacre as genocide and called Chinese police to stop these actions. But after one Erdogan signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement with China. By signing this agreement, Turkey actually made a choice.

Following G20 Summit, Erdogan met with Xi Jinping. The main issue of the meeting was the intention of Turkey to join BRI.

What are the reasons why Turkey is heading towards China in foreign policy?

During the problems with Europe and the US, Turkey intends to boost cooperation with China. The intention of joining to BRI can be understood as a message to the US, that Turkey doesn't need West.

Turkey is at the threshold of economic crisis by inflation and devaluation of lira. The Turkish-Chinese trade cooperation has been further developed by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2010, as we have mentioned above. However, even in this cooperation, Turkey is facing a problem that is related to the foreign trade deficit.

Turkey imports from China more than export. This creates trade imbalance with China. Turkey sees the solution way by attracting Chinese investment to the country. That's why Erdogan emphasized that Turkey is interested in joining to BRI.

Turkish professor Sanjar Omar says that Turkey can be in the center of BRI, so Turkey should use this position. The investment within this project will affect positively to the Turkish economy. The Uighur problem can be understood as a special tool of US to hamper relations of China and Turkey. The US does not want China to strengthen its presence in the region and deepens cooperation with its ally Turkey.

Therefore, the issue of Uighur is often brought up. Turkey should act very sensitively on this issue. The protection of the rights of Uighur Turks is very necessary, but it should be done without damaging Turkey-China relations. Turkey is following a multilateral foreign policy strategy in the multiethnic world. The S 400 issue and cooperation with China are part of this strategy.



Written by Nejat Ismayilov - political analyst and research journalist

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