Uighur row unlikely to affect China-Turkey relations - analysis

Turkey’s stinging criticism of China’s treatment of its Uighur population is unlikely affect Beijing, which does not want to alienate a county that plays a key role in its "belt and road’’ infrastructure development plan, the South China Morning Post wrote.

Since ethnic riots in Xinjiang in 2009, China has increased the police presence in the region and established what it calls re-education camps for detained Uighurs.

After several years of silence of the Turkish authorities, the foreign ministry in February pressed China to respect the human rights of the Uighur minority, Turkic Muslims of which 1 million are reportedly being illegally detained in “concentration camps.”

“The ministry’s statement on the Uygur issue was unexpectedly strong after such a very long time,” the article quoted Selcuk Colakoglu, the director of the Turkish Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies in Ankara, as saying.

China said Ankara’s comments were “vile” and following several sharp exchanges, the diplomatic row now appears to be over, the South China Morning Post said.

This has frustrated the hopes of human rights campaigners who believed Ankara would lead the Turkic-speaking community in a campaign against China, the article highlighted.

According to Guo Xiaoli, a researcher at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at Australian National University in Canbera, the reason for Ankara’s stance was the local elections that were held on March 31.

Both Colakoglu and Guo believe the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was looking to win votes for the election, while the opposition has campaigned in support of China’s Turkic Muslim minorities.

“In most cases, the Chinese government has taken a relatively mature approach to Turkey’s impulsive comments during elections,” Guo said, adding, “This shows that China does care about its relations with Turkey … and this is most likely because of Turkey’s growing salience in regional value to China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.’’

China has purchased a Turkish port, and agreed to co-develop airline and telecommunication businesses with Turkey as part of the initiative as it aims to expand Beijing’s influence through infrastructure building, the article underlined.

As Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and Western powers have soured, its relations with China have blossomed, it said, recalling that when Turkish currency dropped by more than 40 per cent in August of last year, China loaned it $3.6 billion to fund infrastructure projects.

“[If the economic relations go sour] … China could lose a potential economic and political partner not only in the Middle East but also in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, even in Europe,” Umit Alperen, a researcher at Turkey’s Suleyman Demirel University, said.

“Turkey strongly supports and contributes the belt and road plan. Without Turkey, that success will go down,” he added.