Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and observers have urged Turkey to stay vigilant against a small group of politicians who try to exploit Xinjiang-related issues for selfish political purposes, after bickering between Ankara and Beijing was caused by Turkish opposition leaders’ beautifying of bloody Xinjiang riots. They also warned that the terrorism threat Turkey faces will also be fanned by those figures. Yet, pragmatic cooperation between Beijing and Ankara won’t be shadowed by individual politicians’ besmirching.
Turkey on Tuesday summoned Chinese ambassador Liu Shaobin after the Chinese embassy in Turkey tweeted condemnation and said China “has the right to respond” to Turkish opposition leaders, IYI Party leader Meral Aksener and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas of the main opposition CHP, as they called China’s dealing of the 1990 Baren riot “persecution,” and the riots which brutally killed police and kidnapped others as “martyrdom.”
The embassy tweeted in Turkish on Tuesday that “China resolutely opposes and strongly condemns any challenge by any person or power to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the embassy’s response is “totally justified and beyond reproach.” Turkey also suffers from pain caused by terrorism and separatism. Hopefully, people in Turkey can view China’s firm stance in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as its counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts in a correct, rational and objective way, according to Zhao.
“I personally do not think that either of the people who defended the Baren riot knew what really happened in Baren,” Erkin Oncan, an Istanbul-based journalist who focuses on extremist movements in China and the Middle East, told the Global Times.
He noted that it is no coincidence that the two names that commemorate the Baren riots were representatives of the well-known nationalist and anti-communist political movements in Turkey. On the other hand, Aksener and her party’s support to separatists from China’s Xinjiang is widely known.
It is possible to say that there is a ‘competition’ on issues related to Uygurs between the nationalists who are in opposition and the nationalists in power. The opposition IYI Party accuses other parties for being silent about Uygurs, said the Turkish journalist.
Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, described the 1990 Baren riot as “one of the earliest and deadliest terrorist activities that occurred in Xinjiang.”
On April 5, 1990, incited by a group of separatists egged on by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a terrorist group, holding submachine guns, pistols, explosive devices and grenades, mustered over 200 people to attack the government building of Baren township, Akto county, Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture, kidnapping 10 people, killing 6 armed police officers, and blowing up 2 vehicles.
Official documents show that one police officer’s neck was almost chopped off, with only one layer of skin linking his head to his body. Another officer was beaten up by terrorists with sticks and shovels first, and then stabbed more than 30 times.
Oncan said that unfortunately, Turkish people mostly can’t see such reports, as Western media have a great influence on this, and Chinese media’s voice remains unheard.
“The nationalist perceptions of Xinjiang are being formed directly by the Western media and some Western countries. We can see that when the Western media starts another so-called ‘human rights’ report about China, the nationalists in Turkey also takes action,” he said.
Gokhan Karakas, who works for Turkish newspaper Milliyet, visited Xinjiang in July 2019 and interviewed Abdurrehim Heyit, a musician from the Uygur ethnic group. Before the visit, the musician was claimed dead by some Western media, anti-China forces, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Wang also said that the presence of East Turkistan separatists in Turkey also kept people from the truth about Xinjiang.
For a long time, influenced by the Western media and the East Turkistan separatists living in Turkey, many Turkish people formed misunderstandings on China’s Xinjiang policies. They wrongly thought “their Uygur brothers are under oppression in Xinjiang,” despite the fact that China has issued a white paper in July 2019 stating Uygurs are “not descendants of Turks.”
A Turkish reporter told the Global Times previously that those separatists are the major source of Turkey’s Xinjiang news. Many of them share connections with foundations, NGOs and even foreign governments, according to the reporter, saying that some Turkish politicians tend to hype those separatists’ voices, trying to gain more political advantage.
When Chinese State Councilor and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Turkey last month, there was a small group of protesters who condemned China’s treatment of the Uygur population.
“We call on Turkey to stand with East Turkestan,” said Burhan Uluyol, one of the protesters, according to the Associated Press.
When meeting with Wang, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey has always abided by the one-China principle and is committed to elevate Turkey-China strategic cooperative ties.
He vowed that his country will never get involved in any action hostile to China, while prohibiting violent terrorist acts against China on its territory.
Oncan predicted that this incident won’t affect ties. “In the last few years the government of Turkey did not want to further isolate from the international arena, and does not want to create new tensions with other major powers like China,” he said.
Li also said that Turkey won’t venture to put China-Turkey ties at risk just because of short-term or interparty interests, but needs to stay vigilant against anti-China terrorists and nationalist politicians, as they also pose a threat to Turkey’s security.