In the beginning of February this year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has once again noted the problem of human rights violation in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China. The head of U.S. Department of State urged the international community to draw attention to the “plight of more 1 million Uighur Muslims and ethnic Kazakhs that are detained in internment camps of Xinjiang” and called on Beijing to put an end to this repression.
Mike Pompeo is not the first world-level politician who mentioned this issue. The Turkish officials are also among those who pointed out the subject of so-called “reeducation camps”. During the municipal election race in spring of last year, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ representative urged China to respect the rights of ethnic Uighurs and to close the camps where the latest are custodied. In the context of election campaign the ruling power apparently leaned on additional support from Uighurs located in Turkey. Moreover, Ankara wanted to gain the backing of the USA and EU countries like it was in 2009, when Erdogan being at that time country’s prime-minister, defined Beijing’s Uighur national policy as “genocide”. However, anti-China outburst fell on deaf ears of the West this time, which by all accounts didn’t want to promote Erdogan’s party in election race.
Beijing’s reaction was opposite to the West’s: firstly China’s officials declared the shutting down of its consulate in Turkey’s Izmir, and then threatened Ankara with economic sanctions if it continues to interfere in China’s internal affairs. Amid the growth of crisis in relationship of two countries, Erdogan’s visit to China in the beginning of July last year was right up his alley. It was expected to become a touchstone of these tensions. Given the Turkish economic insecurity, it was hard to believe that provident Turkish leader would resume his Beijing-accusatory narrative.
People in Xinjiang “live happily,” – it’s Erdogan quotation from his speech in Beijing represented by “Xinhua”. Chinese media strove to show Ankara’s extensive support of China’s policy in East Turkestan. The logic went like the consulate’s suspension and other warnings made by China came in useful. However it happened that things weren’t going too well for China-Turkey relationship.
Hong Kong news media company “South China Morning Post” (SCMP) a few days after the end of Erdogan’s visit to Beijing, published news that Turkish leader’s comment was mistranslated. Moreover, according to agency, Turkish officials claimed that China refused to correct the translation even after the mistake was pointed out by Ankara. SCMP writes that Turkish president should have been quoted as saying that Turkey “hopes the people of China’s Xinjiang live happily in peace and prosperity”.
It seems that Beijing fiercely attempted to show a much-desired bilateral reconciliation, trying to conceal the rift between two countries which sprang a few months before Erdogan’s visit. However, Turkey didn’t give up its position and showed readiness to defend its interests even threatened with economic sanctions.
All the appeals of Chinese authorities to Turkey to persecute radical islamists from XUAR in Syria are still ignored by Ankara. It doesn’t matter who fights for Turkey in Arab Republic’s North: Uighur of Afghan. The only thing that matters – it should serve Turkey’s interests.
By Ali Zeid, Lebanese Middle East researcher