Turkey President in China for talks amid Uighur tensions

Friday 24/07/2015
Strategic relationship

BEIJING - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for talks in Beijing on Wednesday, a day after securing NATO\'s backing for Ankara\'s fight against Islamic State militants.

Ankara is expanding a cross-border campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria, and also attacking positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers\' Party in northern Iraq after deadly attacks inside Turkey.

Xi welcomed Erdogan outside Beijing\'s Great Hall of the People where the two leaders inspected a military honour guard before entering the ornate building for their meeting.

\"At present we are moving in a constructive direction bringing more content to our strategic cooperative relationship,\" Erdogan told Xi.

Xi, meanwhile, stressed that Erdogan\'s three visits to China as both prime minister and president showed that he was attentive to Chinese-Turkish relations.

\"We consistently advocate that China and Turkey should support each other on major issues and deepen their strategic cooperative relationship,\" Xi said.

Turkey entered discussions in 2013 with a Chinese state-run company over a contract for an anti-missile system worth $3.4 billion, raising eyebrows among other NATO members.

A final deal has been elusive, with Erdogan noting in an interview with China\'s state-run Xinhua news agency that \"impediments\" have emerged after an initial Chinese proposal, but also said that the issue would be on the agenda in Beijing.

\"Any offer that will enrich this appropriate proposal will be welcomed by us,\" he told Xinhua in an interview published Tuesday.

\"I believe this visit will give more momentum to bilateral relations,\" he added.

Turkey is a NATO member, and on Tuesday the alliance strongly backed Ankara\'s fight against \"terrorism\" at an emergency meeting, although some countries expressed concerns that strikes on Kurdish fighters could torpedo peace talks with the rebels, who are bitterly opposed to the jihadists.

The visit also comes amid tensions between Ankara and Beijing over China\'s mostly Muslim Uighur minority, who have cultural ties with Turkey and speak a Turkic language.

China blames Islamist separatists for violence in the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, while Turkey has repeatedly expressed concerns about Beijing\'s treatment of the minority -- with Erdogan in 2009 accusing Beijing of \"genocide\" in the region.

The two countries engaged in a public row this year over Uighurs who fled China to seek refuge in Thailand, with Turkey offering them shelter against Beijing\'s wishes.

Thailand said this month that it had deported about 100 Uighurs back to China, after sending more than 170 Uighur women and children to Turkey in late June.

As tensions over the refugees mounted this month, activists stormed the Thai consulate in Istanbul and burnt the Chinese flag outside Beijing\'s consulate in the city. China \"strongly condemned\" the acts.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said in a Wednesday editorial that the \"Uighur issue... if left unattended, may poison ties and derail cooperation\".

Chinese media have repeatedly cited unnamed sources linking Uighurs to jihadist violence in the Middle East, without giving evidence.

In an op-ed in the state-run Global Times on Wednesday, writer Wen Dao accused Turkish diplomats of providing \"assistance to smuggle Xinjiang Uighur terrorists into the Middle East\".

State television\'s main evening news bulletin led with Erdogan\'s visit and reported he told Xi that Turkey is also a victim of terrorism.

As part of a clampdown in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have launched campaigns against the wearing of headscarves, veils and other Islamic coverings by women and facial hair on men while also banning civil servants, students and teachers there from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

At the welcome ceremony, Erdogan\'s wife was shown in footage on state TV wearing a hijab when being greeted by Xi and his spouse Peng Liyuan.

Boosting Turkish exports to China is also likely to be high among Erdogan\'s goals, with Turkey running a large trade deficit with the world\'s second-largest economy, according to official Chinese statistics.

\"I believe that all the various agreements we will sign will make this the most significant visit since we established strategic cooperative relations,\" Erdogan told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before meeting Xi.

China and Turkey are both trying to increase influence in their respective regions and are members of the Group of 20 leading advanced and developing economies.

Turkey is hosting this year\'s G20 summit while China will do so next year, and Erdogan told Xinhua they will discuss issues related to the grouping.

Erdogan is due to visit Indonesia after leaving China, the Turkish government said.