Silent on plight of Uighurs, Turkey eyeing benefits from China - analysis

Turkey is keeping silent on the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in China, despite it vocal stance against oppression of Muslims internationally, in an effort to avoid offending Beijing amid a financial crisis, wrote Thomas Seibert in an article in Arab Weekly.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Seibert said, is hoping that Turkey can reap benefits from a Chinese plan to develop overland, sea and air export routes to Europe.

The state repression of China’s 11-15 million Uighur Turks has fallen off the agenda of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), he noted, pointing to Turkey’s isolation stemming from ongoing diplomatic row with the United States.

A UN rights panel in August shared credible reports of up to 1 million ethnic Uighurs being held in extra-legal detention in the Xinjiang region, while Human Rights Watch said they faced arbitrary detention, daily curbs on religious practice and “forced political indoctrination” in a massive security crackdown.

Erdogan, known for sharp criticism of Israel and his stance against Myanmar committing “genocide” against the Rohingya Muslim minority, has yet to comment on the issue, Seibert noted.

This time around, it’s Turkey’s economic problems that are Erdogan’s main concern, Seibert quoted Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at Washington think-tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as saying.

“Although Erdogan has presented himself as a champion of Turkey’s ethnic and religious brethren globally, in relations with both Russia and China, Erdogan has chosen to turn a blind eye to the plight of Turkic and Muslim victims,” Erdemir said.

Noting that China could play an important role in helping Turkey overcome its economic crisis, the Arab Weekly contributor recalled that  The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in August provided a $3.6 billion loan package to the Turkish energy and transportation sector and close to 1,000 Chinese companies are active in Turkey.

According to experts Erdogan’s silence could backfire, as he may be faced with a loss of domestic support if he remains silent on the issue, which tugs at the heartstrings of Turks.