Turkey’s domestic, international difficulties underlie anti-China protest

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-6 23:43:01

Relations between Turkey and China have been strained recently after a series of anti-China demonstrations were carried out by Turkish nationalists. Hundreds of protesters, claiming to be acting in solidarity with the Turkic Muslim Uyghurs, complained of China's treatment of its Uyghur community in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Protesters even attacked a group of Korean tourists in Istanbul's old city on Saturday, mistaking them for Chinese people. The incident followed distorted Turkish media reports of restrictions placed on Muslim Uyghurs worshiping and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

China has denied the accusations, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that all people in Xinjiang enjoy the freedom of religious belief accorded to them by the Chinese Constitution. China has also warned its citizens traveling in Turkey to be careful of protests.

Turkey has no right to intervene in China's domestic affairs. The factors underlying anti-China protests are worth exploring. The protests reflect the international and domestic challenges Turkey is facing. Ankara, by exaggerating issues surrounding Xinjiang's Uyghurs, is attempting to divert public attention away from these problems.

Internationally, the Turkish government has been criticized for its stance on many conflicts in the Middle East, including its relations with Syria. Turkey has long been involved in the Syria crisis by providing political and even military support for Syria's opposition factions, which has damaged the relationship between Ankara and Damascus. The Turkish government has also failed to play an active role in fighting against the Islamic State.

The Turkish government is experiencing domestic difficulties as well. Admittedly, by developing friendly relationships with other countries, Turkey has previously enjoyed economic prosperity. However, this golden time has passed. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now facing increasing criticism over his concentration of power. The Islamist bent of his governance has triggered dissatisfaction at home. Under such a situation, the Turkish government is trying to distract its citizens' attention from these problems with the issue of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The Xinjiang issue is also seen by the Turkish government as a bargaining chip in its deals with China. Turkey is located along the Silk Road Economic Belt and Ankara has long been active in facilitating cooperation with China's "One Belt, One Road" strategy. The Turkish government, by taking advantage of issues with Xinjiang, wants to gain more economic benefits and have better chances when its chips are down. This is absolutely wrong. If the China-Turkey relationship deteriorates, the losses will outweigh the gains for Turkey.

Last but not least, many Turks, see themselves as sharing a common cultural and religious background with Uyghurs in China. Some extreme nationalists with Pan-Turkish sentiment stir up trouble whenever something happens to the Uyghurs.

The Turkish government has often taken an ambiguous attitude toward such nationalism. The government's passivity will encourage the expansion of Turkish nationalism and trigger even more violent protests. The government's ambiguous attitude has fueled the anti-China protests.

The deteriorating relationship between China and Turkey will do no good to either side and the government should condemn and curb anti-China protests carried out by the group of extreme nationalists.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Liu Jianxi based on an interview with Li Weijian, a research fellow with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. liujianxi@globaltimes.com.cn

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