Turkey, China pledge security cooperation as ties warm
BEIJING | Turkey’s top diplomat vowed Thursday to root out militants plotting against China, signaling closer cooperation against suspected Uighur militants hailing from China’s far west who have long been a sore point in bilateral relations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters during a visit to Beijing that his government would treat threats to China’s security as threats to itself and would not allow any “antiChina activity inside Turkey or territory controlled by Turkey.”
Mr. Cavusoglu’s tough comments, which came after a meeting and warm handshakes with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, were seen as referring to China’s Uighur ethnic minority, a Turkic people who share cultural and linguistic ties with Anatolian Turks.
Turkey and China have in recent years pledged to cooperate on security and counter-terrorism efforts, though experts say such ties are also balanced by mutual suspicion. Relations between Ankara and Beijing have been strained by Turkey’s support for groups fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad — a China ally — and its sheltering of Uighur refugees.
Human rights groups have long accused China of oppressing its roughly 10 million Uighurs with severe restrictions on language, culture and religion and inflaming a cycle of resentment and radicalization. Hundreds have died in Xinjiang in violent clashes in recent years and China now keeps the region, with a land area comparable to Iran, under a constant lockdown with massive policing and surveillance efforts that activists say are rife with abuse.
Thousands of Uighurs have fled China in recent years to seek asylum in Turkey, with many traveling on to Syria to join Islamic militant groups or simply to escape persecution and find a new home. In response, China has pressed allies including Russia and Syria to share intelligence about Uighur militants fighting in Syria and help avert their return to strike at China.
Hundreds of Uighurs, if not far more, are believed to have joined the al Qaedaaffiliated Nusra Front while others have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group or sided with smaller militant factions in the Syrian conflict.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had positioned himself as a champion of Turkic peoples and in 2009 accused Beijing of committing “genocide” toward Uighurs, attracting a flurry of headlines and infuriating Beijing. The two governments clashed again in 2015 when Turkey offered asylum to Uighur refugees detained in Thailand whom China had demanded back.
Since then, however, the China-Turkey relationship has warmed amid a broader political realignment. China, Russia and Turkey have strengthened their partnership while Mr. Erdogan has pulled away from the orbit of European governments amid disputes over human rights and other issues.
China has expressed openness toward Turkey, a member of NATO, joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance that includes Russia and several central Asian states that is seen as a counterweight to NATO.