Turkey defends Uighur rights in China after social media criticism

Turkey said on Wednesday that the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang province was "a cause of concern” and it expected Uighurs to be treated as equal citizens. 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued the statement defending the Uighurs, who are Turkic in origin, after criticism on social media that the government had failed to sign up to a United Nations resolution by 39 member states condemning China’s treatment of the minority. The omission prompted an outpouring of criticism on social media. 

"As a country having ethnic, religious and cultural ties with the Uighur Turks, we attach special importance to their well-being, security, prosperity and happiness. We always follow closely and with utmost care the developments regarding our Uighur brothers," Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

"We voice our expectations regarding the situation of Uighur Turks and other Muslim minorities both at the bilateral level with China as well as at the international platforms in a clear and transparent manner," Aksoy said.

In 2009, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Erdoğan became one of the world’s first leaders to label China’s treatment of the Uighurs as a “genocide”. Turkey, home to more than 50,000 Uighurs who fled persecution in China, labelled internment camps in Xinjiang “a great shame for humanity” as recently as February last year.

During a trip to China in July 2019, Erdoğan appeared to backtrack, pledging security cooperation with Beijing. He said that residents of the Xinjiang region live happy and prosperous lives under China’s rule, according to Chinese state-run television.

A faltering Turkish economy and poor relations with Europe have brought Turkey closer to China. Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars in helping to develop Turkish infrastructure as a key part of China’s Belt & Road investment strategy. Beijing has said it aims to double investments in Turkey to more than $6 billion by the end of next year.