Turkey’s relations with China on verge of breakage over Uyghur issue

ISTANBUL: In recent times, there has been a dent in the relationship and cooperation between China and Turkey. as per the top diplomat of Turkey, the ascription of the worsening to Ankara's dedication to not handover Turkey's Uyghur nonconformists to China's authorities.

ISTANBUL: In recent times, there has been a dent in the relationship and cooperation between China and Turkey. as per the top diplomat of Turkey, the ascription of the worsening to Ankara’s dedication to not handover Turkey’s Uyghur nonconformists to China’s authorities.

On the other side, a sense of dismissal regarding the citing as an elected position to describe that the government is more focused on how to defend fellow Muslims of the Turkic, the sensitive topic has the potential to create a new rupture between Beijing and Ankara.


“There is indeed a slowdown in relations with China,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at his end-of-year news conference on Dec. 29 in Ankara.

“But this stems from China,” he added, noting that Beijing constantly requests the extradition of Uyghurs, even some Turkish citizens. “We give none of them,” he insisted, saying that social media rumours of Turkey extraditing Uyghur dissidents to China or deporting them to third countries more willing to extradite them to China are “all lies.”

The Uyghurs of China’s westernmost Xinjiang autonomous region share ethnic, religious and linguistic ties with people in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. Turkey is thought to house the largest Uyghur diaspora outside Central Asia, at roughly 50,000.

“From the Balkans to Uyghur Turks, Crimean Tatars, Iraqi and Syrian Turkmens, to the Turks of western Thrace to Meskhetian Turks (in Georgia), we have been on the side of our kinsmen,” Cavusoglu said at the news conference.

Fiery Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been relatively quiet on the issue of China’s treatment of Uyghurs recently, not wanting to burn bridges with Beijing. 

Investment and financing from China to Turkey have significantly increased over the last decade. Turkey sees further potential cooperation, including Chinese investment in megaprojects such as high-speed railways, nuclear power plants and a shipping canal that would be an alternative passage to the Black Sea parallel to the Bosporus Strait.


Cavusoglu’s comments were a slight departure from the careful approach of the recent past.

Alper Coskun, a former director general for international security affairs at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, cautioned to avoid jumping to conclusions.

“Minister Cavusoglu’s comments are in response to a question at a year-end press conference and cannot be interpreted as a calculated attempt to raise Turkey’s rhetoric on the Uyghur issue in a confrontational manner,” he said.

Coskun, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added: “It’s more like Cavusoglu used the press conference as an opportunity to rebuff criticism from the opposition regarding relations with China and Turkey’s perceived inaction vis-a-vis the plight of the Uyghurs. The fact that he did so ahead of elections in Turkey suggests that domestic considerations drove him.”

Irrespective of the outcome of the elections, which must take place by June, Turkey’s foreign policy toward China and its handling of the Uyghur problem will remain the same, Coskun said.

The plight of Uyghurs has a widespread resonance among the Turkish public. Erdogan has recently stepped up talk of a more united “Turkic world,” seeking to raise the profile of the Organization of Turkic States, formerly known as the Turkic Council.

With polls showing support for the ruling Justice and Development Party running out of steam, tapping Muslim, Turkic kinship may be an attractive strategy.

But if Turkey shifts its policy on the Uyghur issue, it could be a massive headache for China.

Michael Tanchum, a non-resident fellow in the program on economics and energy at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, has written that China has long been wary of Turkey and apprehensive of its force and ability to spearhead an operation of pan-Turkic solidarity that would include the Turkic Uyghurs.

“As China’s blueprint to the Asian region, Xinjiang region in China is a critical launching point for Beijing’s effort to create an overland transit corridor for China-to-Europe trade” through the Belt and Road Initiative, Tanchum wrote in an article in 2021.

Tanchum noted that Turkey’s assistance to fellow Turkic nation Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war — which Azerbaijan decidedly won, using Turkish drones — “has connected Turkey’s presence in Azerbaijan along with enhancing Ankara’s ability to project its influence in Central Asia.”

as per the sources, Ankara is likely to take advantage of

on its new state of prestige by focusing more of its hard work on strengthening its level of economic and security association with the Turkic states of Central Asia, 

Tanchum said. “As it does so, Turkey could progressively have control of the balance of driving force between both nations in the Eurasian building. 

Furthermore, Turkey could go back to its current acquiescence to China’s Xinjiang policy and pressure Beijing as a power player within the emerging Eurasian architecture from such a position of massive and controllable geopolitical power.

Such a scenario would have implications for the U.S.-China great-power rivalry. 

Ankara is careful not to be caught between Washington and Beijing. Cavusoglu said in the press conference that Turkey “categorically” does not have an anti-China stance. “We always said we support the One China policy,” he emphasized.

China is likely analyzing Cavusoglu’s comments carefully.

“It is disturbing China that we are protecting the rights of Uyghurs within the international community, but this is a humanitarian matter,” the foreign minister said, citing a United Nations Human Rights Council report on Xinjiang released in September.

“The report shows all the violations. We have to react to this,” he said.

In 2017, Turkey signed an extradition treaty with China, bringing it to its parliament in 2019 for ratification. At the end of 2020, just before the arrival of the first batches of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines to Turkey, the Chinese side ratified the treaty at the National People’s Congress, a rubber-stamp parliament, increasing pressure on Turkey to do the same.

Ilyas Dogan, a professor of law at Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, said the unpopular treaty could not be ratified in the Turkish parliament due to the risk of a public backlash. 

Even if it were ratified, extradition and deportation decisions could be challenged in Turkish courts, he added. Past European Court of Human Rights rulings prohibiting deportation to China also binds Turkey.

Dogan, who serves as a lawyer for many Uyghurs, said Turkey is playing a balancing act with China. 

The number of Uyghurs held at deportation centres in Turkey has dropped, he said, describing it as a tactic of “catch and release” — holding some Uyghurs at deportation centres to show it is adhering to Beijing’s requests, only to release them later.

Cavusoglu called on fellow Turkic and Muslim countries to support the Uyghurs. “When it comes to Uyghur Turks, even our brotherly countries do not give them the necessary support. 

There is no unity. We need to establish this unity and solidarity in the Islamic world. These are political and humanitarian matters. 

We should not be on bad terms with any country, but we need to move together and take steps to solve humanitarian matters,” Cavusoglu said. It was a statement that surely raised eyebrows in Beijing.

Tariq Saeed

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