China temporarily shuts down Izmir consulate in Turkey following tensions over Uighurs

Updated by adding reports on China shutting down Izmir consulate

The Chinese government has shut down its general consulate in Turkey’s third biggest city following repeated Turkish criticism of Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in its far western Xinjiang region, a statement released by the Embassy of China in Ankara said on Thursday. 

“The Chinese side has decided to temporarily shut down its Izmir General-Consulate as of Feb. 28, 2019, as part of general arrangements with regard to its embassies and consulates abroad,” the statement said.

The move comes amid an ongoing row between Ankara and Beijing over Uigur Turks in which the former has harshly criticised the Chinese government of assimilating the Muslim Turkic minority. 

Beijing has denied claims over its treatment of its Uighur people and, as a response to Ankara’s criticisms, it also issued a travel advisory admonishing its citizens against travelling to Turkey.

Following China's decision, business groups and trade associations in Izmir released a statement calling the Chinese government not to shut down the general-consulate. 

“Given the place of our city as part of the One Belt One Road Project and at a moment when the ties between Izmir and China should develop, the closure of the general-consulate with which we have been cooperating deeply saddened us,” the statement read. 

China’s envoy to Ankara said on Friday Ankara’s criticism against Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims could affect the mutual trust between two countries and harm commercial and economic relations.

“There may be disagreements or misunderstandings between friends but we should solve them through dialogue. Criticising your friend publicly everywhere is not a constructive approach,” Reuters quoted Deng Li, Beijing’s top diplomat to Ankara, as saying.

“If you choose a non-constructive path, it will negatively affect mutual trust and understanding and will be reflected in commercial and economic relations,” Deng told Reuters in an interview.

Deng said that many Chinese companies were looking for business opportunities in Turkey including the construction of a third nuclear power plant, while Chinese banks were also interested in investing in the country.

China’s state-run Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) gained a foothold in Turkey in 2015 by acquiring over 75 percent of shares in the Turkish TekstilBank in a $316 million deal. Last year, while Turkish lira saw record lows as a result of a diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, the ICBC agreed on a loan package worth $3.6 billion for Turkey’s energy and transportation sector.

Turkey’s trade deficit with China stood at $17.8 billion last year and the Finance Minister Berat Albayrak announced in January that the Turkish government was considering measures to lower trade deficits with China and other Asian countries

“Both countries are strictly against such policies, and both economies need an open world economy,” Deng said in relation to possible protectionist measures to be taken by Ankara.