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Turkey’s First Public Criticism Of China Over Mistreatment Of Uyghurs Irks Beijing

Previously, Turkey had brought up the plight of the Uyghur community in China at the UN in 2019, condemning China of "torturing" more than a million people.

Written By Yuvraj Tyagi

January 10, 2023

Turkey’s public criticism of China over its mistreatment of the Uyghur minority has irked Beijing. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated at a press briefing on December 29, 2022, “Our defending the rights of the Turkic Uyghurs in the international arena disturbs China. But this is a humanitarian issue,” adding further that China was miffed by Ankara’s refusal to extradite Uyghurs who were Turkish citizens and settled down in Turkey, Insideover reported.

Notably, Turkey is one of the most hospitable countries for the Uyghurs, with whom Turks share religious, ethnic, and linguistic roots. Uyghurs living in Turkey form the largest diaspora of the community outside Central Asia with up to 50,000 Uyghurs living in the nation. Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Minister agreed that the progress in bilateral relations with China has “slowed down” following Ankara’s stance regarding the Uyghur community.

Ankara cites UN report detailing the plight of Uyghurs

A report released by the United Nations in September 2022 detailed the alleged violations of human rights of China’s Uyghur minority community in addition to other Muslim minorities of the nation. The report cited credible documentation of sexual violence, torture, and forced labour prevailing in the mass detention facilities in China’s Xinjiang province from 2017 to 2019. Turkey’s criticism of China took a cue from the same UN report, the Insideover reported. As per the 48-page UN report, China committed "serious human rights violations" against the Uyghurs and other Muslims under the guise to combat terrorism and extremism in the country.

Furthermore, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglu emphasized that Ankara was willing to cooperate with Beijing in a transparent manner, but the ambassador was not allowed to freely visit the region where the Uyghurs reside. In contrast, China wanted the diplomat to follow a "programme that they provided,” for the visit.

The Turkish diplomat further reminded Beijing about the commitment made by China’s President Xi Jinping five years prior to allowing a Turkey-led humanitarian delegation to visit and examine the Xinjiang province and questioned Beijing for impeding the visit, Insideover reported. Although rare, Ankara has taken on Beijing in the past as well over the ill-treatment of Uyghurs.

Previously, Ankara had brought up the plight of the Uyghur community in China at the United Nations in 2019, condemning China for "torturing" more than a million people. This prompted China’s Ambassador in Ankara to warn the Turkish administration against publicly criticizing Beijing suggesting that it could invite commercial and economic consequences. This was followed by a sudden announcement by China to temporarily close its consulate in Turkey's Aegean province of Izmir.

In another instance in 2021, the commemoration of the deaths of the Uyghurs by the opposition in Turkey was directly targeted by the Chinese Embassy in Ankara. The Chinese embassy’s statement, "The Chinese side reserves its legitimate right to respond" prompted the Turkish foreign minister to summon the Chinese ambassador.


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