Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Uyghur Issues Cast Pall Over Turkey-China Relations

Just as Turkish President Erdogan heads to Beijing, Uyghur issues are causing anger in the bilateral relationship.

By Shannon Tiezzi

The Diplomat - July 28, 2015

A recent Reuters report highlights what has become a thorny issue in China-Turkey relations: evidence that Turkish diplomats in Southeast Asia are providing travel documents to Chinese Uyghurs, facilitating their journeys to Turkey over Chinese objections. The issue threatens to overshadow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Beijing this week.
A number of Uyghurs currently living in Istanbul told Reuters that they had been given travel documents by Turkish embassy workers based in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. China is adamant that Uyghurs who leave China illegally must be returned to the country; Turkish diplomats helping them would be a major scandal in China-Turkey relationship. Making matters more complicated, Uyghurs detained in Southeast Asian countries often claim to be from Turkey to avoid being deported to China.
A separate story published earlier this month by China’s Xinhua tells a similar tale: a Uyghur is smuggled out of China and told to claim to be Turkish if arrested. Upon reaching the Turkish embassy in Malaysia, he and other are given identification documents from the embassy, which allowed them to travel to Turkey.
Adding what China will view as a grave insult to the existing injury, one of the travel documents viewed by Reuters listed a Uyghur child’s nationality as “East Turkestan,” a name used by Uyghur activists to refer to their homeland as a separate state. In China, the name is associated not only with separatism but with terrorism—as in, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
The dark side of the Uyghur documents scandal, as the China Matters blog noted, is what happens to the migrants after they arrive in Turkey. Some then travel to Syria to join the fighting, including linking up with Islamic State. China claims to have arrested Uyghurs trained abroad who then returned to China with the intention of carrying out terrorist attacks.