China’s Xi Jinping calls for greater counter-terrorism cooperation with Turkey
President Xi Jinping has told his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan that the two should deepen counter-terrorism cooperation, amid Chinese concern about ethnic Uygurs from its Xinjiang region fighting with militants in the Middle East.
Uygurs are a largely Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority from China’s western Xinjiang region.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, keen to escape unrest in Xinjiang, have travelled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey, where many see themselves as sharing religious and cultural ties.
Beijing says some Uygurs then end up fighting with Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
Meeting on the sidelines of a summit about China’s new Silk Road plan, Xi told Erdogan that developing strategic cooperation was in the interests of both countries, China’s foreign ministry said late on Saturday.
“In order to promote even greater development of relations, China and Turkey must respect and give consideration to each other’s core concerns, and deepen security and counter-terrorism cooperation,” the ministry cited Xi as saying. The ministry did not elaborate.
Syria’s ambassador to China said last week that up to 5,000 Uygurs are fighting in various militant groups in Syria.
Ankara vowed last year to keep its doors open to Uygur migrants fleeing what rights activists have called religious persecution in China. Beijing denies accusations that it restricts Uighurs’ religious freedoms.
Beijing blames Islamist militants, including those it says come from a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), for a rise in violence in Xinjiang in recent years in which hundreds have died.
Rights groups say the unrest is more a reaction to repressive government policies, and experts have questioned whether the ETIM exists as a cohesive militant group.
Officials in Xinjiang have stepped up regulations banning overt signs of religious observance, like veils and beards.
In 2015, Turkey angered China by expressing concern about reports of restrictions on Uygurs worshipping and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and Turkish protesters have marched on China’s embassy and consulate in Turkey over the treatment of Uygurs.
The two countries have also quarrelled over Thailand’s deportation of Uygur migrants back to China.