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Turkey supports China on Xinjiang

August 17, 2009 03:26 am | Updated 03:26 am IST - BEIJING

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo (file) AP

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo (file) AP

Turkey, the lone voice in the international community that strongly criticised China for its handling of July’s ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, now appears to have mended its fences with China.

Only a few weeks ago, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the events as “a kind of genocide”. Now, it appears to have considerably changed its tone.

“We have the confidence that those who caused the incident would be brought to transparent, fair and swift justice by the Chinese authorities,” said Turkish Ambassador to China Murat Salim Esenli on Friday, during a four-day visit to the troubled Muslim-majority Xinjiang region. Relations between the two countries have been strained following the ethnic clashes between Han Chinese and minority Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic-speaking Muslim group, that broke out in Urumqi on July 5.

At least 197 people were killed in what was the biggest ethnic unrest in China’s recent history.

Migrant community

Turkey has a large Uighur migrant community, which is viewed in the country as sharing a common pan-Turkish ethnic identity. Shortly after the violence, Mr. Erdogan said he would approach the United Nations to “discuss” the issue.

Last month, Trade Minister Nihat Ergun also called on consumers to not buy Chinese goods.

But Turkey has found itself isolated in the international community over its stance on Xinjiang.

The country’s trade relationship with China has also grown close in recent years, and Mr. Erdogan’s government has found itself walking a tight-rope balancing economic and geo-political considerations with domestic public opinion that remains strongly against China.

Opposition parties in Turkey have also sought to gain political mileage out of the issue, and more than 10,000 people attended a recent protest rally criticising China’s handling of the unrest and calling for a strong response from the government.

But now, the government appears to have softened its stance. Mr. Esenli for the first time toured Xinjiang last week, as part of a delegation of envoys from the U.S., Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Togo, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait and Afghanistan. During the visit, Mr. Esenli praised the Chinese government for opening up the region to foreign media, and blamed the Western media’s “biased and prejudiced reporting” for influencing public opinion in Turkey, State media reported.

Economic ties

The trip, organised by the Chinese government, comprised a number of envoys from Muslim countries, many of whom enjoy close economic ties with China and have in recent weeks publicly voiced their support to the Chinese government on the Xinjiang issue. Turkey has now joined that list.

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