Turkey and China on a hot tin..Does Beijing support the Kurds in response to Ankara’s support for the Uyghurs?

was not celebrate Being one of hundreds of international fighters fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria is quite exceptional, as these fighters often display photos documenting the details of their daily lives on the front lines on the battlefield, and the Western media have often received these images to praise the fighters. Kurdish pro-Western group. But the strange thing this time is that the celebration came by Chinese media that dealt with the story of a twenty-three-year-old British-Chinese fighter named “Huang Li”, using a picture of him on the battlefronts that he posted on his account on the “Sina Weibo” website (microblogging site). A Chinese like Twitter) in order to document his presence in the Syrian war in 2015. Not only did he brag about the heroism of “Huang Li” alone, but and rush Chinese media themselves praise the international fighters who helped Kurdish forces in their war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

“Huang Lee”

The official Chinese media has long been known to refrain from addressing controversial issues of other countries, especially those that go against the People’s Republic of China’s political approach, which is to refrain from supporting separatist tendencies in any country. Therefore, this time represented a stark exception, but it was not the first appearance of China in the Kurdish file. There have been many Chinese positions in support of the Kurds, as Beijing has expressed its condemnation of the Turkish moves against them in international forums. Behind the controversial Chinese position were several motives, most notably Beijing’s desire to send messages to Ankara, which has repeatedly angered China with its customary support for the Uighurs, the Muslim minority speaking a Turkic language in East Turkestan or Xinjiang in western China, and public sympathy for the plight they are experiencing due to the Chinese government’s repression .

Uyghurs..between China and Turkey

Over recent decades, Turkish-Chinese relations have experienced ups and downs, but What caused the most The cracks in that relationship are the dispute over the Uyghur issue, a dispute that began since Turkey offered asylum to the Uyghurs who fled Xinjiang after the Chinese Communists assumed the seat of power in the country in the middle of the last century. Since then, Ankara has been accustomed to granting them temporary or permanent residence, and has continued to defend them in international forums, especially in light of its close alliance with the United States during the Cold War, and its interest in extending its influence through Central Asian countries with strong cultural, linguistic and ethnic ties to Turkey.

Uyghur protesters, waving Turkish and blue East Turkestan flags, fire a Chinese flag during an anti-China protest near the Chinese Consulate in IstanbulUyghurs protest during an anti-China protest near the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul

The Turkish interest in the Uyghurs provoked the indignation of Beijing, which considered this issue one of the most sensitive domestic issues for it, and accordingly tensed Relations between the two countries throughout the nineties, which witnessed the peak of Turkey’s interest in Asia. but with Arrival of the AKP To power in Turkey, bilateral relations between Ankara and Beijing gained new momentum, and the two countries signed economic, cultural and educational agreements, and by 2018, the number of Chinese companies operating in Turkey had Rape A company.

In line with his country’s position on the Uyghur issue despite its openness to China, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Xinjiang in 2012 as part of an official visit to China, in an attempt to use Turkish soft power and instill confidence with Chinese officials regarding Turkey’s interest in that region, and that he did not It comes to undermine Chinese sovereignty, and most of what is there is that Ankara is interested in developing the region under Beijing’s authority, which may contribute to strengthening stability in China rather than undermining it.

However, with the intensification of talk of the detention of millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps Chinese and their exposure to ethnic cleansing and genocide since 2014, Turkey could not stand without a reaction, as it was one of the first countries to She showed her solidarity. Then tension returned in 2019, when news spread about the death of the famous Uyghur poet “Abdul Rahim Heit” in a Chinese detention camp, and Turkey quickly condemned the incident, to return Beijing With a video that denies the fact of his death and strongly criticizes Turkey. Although relations were quickly returning to their “default” status after each wave of tension, China maintained reservations about Turkish positions, which it considered interference in its affairs, including what happened on October 22 of this year, when حثَّت 43 countries, including Turkey, China to “ensure full respect for the rule of law in relation to the Uyghur Muslim community in Xinjiang.”

Chinese pressure

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and China's President Xi Jinping attend a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 2, 2019. Picture taken July 2, 2019. Roman Pilipey/Pool via REUTERS

Turkey’s support for the Uyghurs has always been a rope game, and the question in this case has always been about how far Ankara can go on this issue without completely spoiling its relations with China, or before Chinese pressure reaches a point that the Turks cannot bear. as a result, escalate Doubts about the future of the Uyghurs in Turkey today, especially after a series of arrests by Turkish security in their ranks on allegations related to terrorism, with fears that they could be extradited to China, especially with Signature An extradition treaty between the two countries. The Turkish government denies that it intends to extradite any of the Uyghurs on its soil, which has not actually happened so far.

The arrest of “Abdul Rahim Amin Barash”, who was was detained Last year, by two Turkish policemen in civilian clothes while he was eating in an Istanbul restaurant is the most controversial case to date. The man said that the Turkish police tried to force him to sign a statement implicating him in terrorist acts during his detention, before deporting him to a prison. In the end, Barash was released after three months without explanation, and told not to speak out against China, so the man who has lived in Turkey for more than five years after fleeing Xinjiang believes that China is behind his arrest, due to the publication of a book of poetry describing the persecution of China for the Uyghurs. AndParach says “I’m not sure if China is putting direct pressure on the Turkish government to control the Uyghurs here, or if it was Chinese agents who infiltrated Turkish society to portray us as terrorists,” NPR told NPR.

In the meantime, Turkey has maintained that its position in support of the Uyghurs has not changed, and that its security measures target specific people around whom there are suspicions, and have nothing to do with pressure from China, and that 35,000 Uyghurs live in Turkey in complete safety, without any pressures or fears, but developments The latter indicates that Ankara would like at least In softening the usual tone of criticism of China, after Beijing has emerged as a major investor and lender needed by the Turkish economy, which is facing many setbacks. With the decline of the Turkish lira in recent years, Beijing was one of the initiators to support the Turkish economy, as the People’s Bank of China granted one billion dollars cash Money for Turkey in 2019.

Protest in London against China - - LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 9: People stage a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy after the Uyghur Tribunal ruled that China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities through policies such as coerced birth control and sterilization in London, United Kingdom on December 9, 2021.

you didn’t get enough Beijing only supported the Turkish lira, but also strengthened its commercial presence in Turkey, even Became There are more than a thousand Chinese companies active in the country as mentioned above, including a number of smartphone manufacturers. As Beijing puts its mark in Turkey’s modern infrastructure, TCIT’s business in Beijing culminated in the arrival of first A train from the Chinese province of Xi’an to Istanbul in November 2019, Turkey is also opening up to Chinese shipping, especially with its interest in modernizing its naval fleet (civilian and military). In light of the faltering relations with NATO and Russia’s delay in the field of naval power in particular compared to the West – in addition to that, Russia is Turkey’s main naval adversary in the end – Ankara sees many benefits from cooperation with China in this field.

push and pull

For its part, Beijing has long been concerned that the conflict in the Middle East may extend to Chinese territory, after thousands of Uighurs traveled to Syrian territory to train and fight against the Assad regime. Therefore, China showed great interest in Syria not turning into a jihadist center that would lead to instability in Xinjiang, and then Beijing found itself close to Russia, which supports the Assad regime, which is originally close to Beijing, but, paradoxically, it found itself converging with the United States in supporting the Kurds, who showed their efficiency in fighting the Islamic State.

China found in the Kurds an opportunity to kill “two birds with one stone,” as the vernacular says. On the one hand, Beijing seeks to strengthen anti-jihadist alliances in Syria and hedge against the return of Uyghur fighters to its lands, and on the other hand, it plans to have a strong equal card in the face of Turkey’s interest in the issue Uighurs, although supporting the separatist Kurds contradicts all that Beijing’s foreign policy calls for preserving state sovereignty and refraining from supporting the separatists.

A protester gestures in front of a Kurdish flag during a rally against the Turkish military operation in Syria, in Berlin, Germany, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

But it seems that the situation is very different with the Kurds, and the irony is that this difference is not born today. Since the end of the fifties, supported Beijing The Kurdish rebellion against the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but with the end of this rebellion in 1975, the relationship with the central government of Iraq began to improve, and the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bought Chinese weapons to fight his enemies, including the Kurds.

But after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, China realized that the Kurds would eventually be able to impose their hegemony on the main oil region in Iraq, and for that it did not hesitate to revive its relations with them, once by opening a general consulate in Erbil in December 2014, Sometimes it opens the door for investments in oil fields and infrastructure wide. However, Beijing was keen, however, to distance itself from supporting the explicit secession of Iraqi Kurdistan, in line with its position against separatist movements in general, and then stated that it supports the territorial integrity of Iraq during the announcement of a referendum for independence by the Iraqi Kurdistan government, before it was finally cancelled. Under pressure from several regional and international parties.

In general, China’s position on the Kurdish issue can be justified in view of several considerations. first, move Beijing according to economic motives in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan, as the region owns land rich in oil (containing about 40% of Iraqi oil reserves). Second, it appears that China, which has been exerting pressure on Ankara since the mid-nineties to curb the activity of the Uyghurs in its territory, is interested in using the pro-Kurds as an important card to balance Turkey’s influence in the region and its presence in the region of Central Asia bordering it.

In this regard, Beijing has taken a number of anti-Turkey measures, such as her accession To the Western coalition that condemned the attack launched by Ankara on Kurdish fighters after former US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw its forces from Syria. as accuse Geng Shuang, Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, accused Turkey of violating human rights in Syria, describing its actions in northeastern Syria as illegal, and said: “Since Turkey illegally invaded northeastern Syria, it has regularly cut off the water supply service.” .

Criticize Chuang also Turkish air operations in Iraq before the United Nations, and claimed that civilians were killed as a result of those strikes. This was in response to a statement by Turkish President Erdogan before the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in which he criticized the situation of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China, calling on the organization to “show sensitivity towards the issue in line with its founding goals.” And you didn’t stop Beijing made this statement to Shuang, but was quick to stress that it would “put Turkey’s actions in Iraq and Syria on its agenda.”

In the end, while Turkey remains stuck between the West and Russia on a number of strategic issues, its dilemmas may be further complicated if China crystallizes a position of support for the separatist Kurds. As indicated by recent developments, it is not excluded that Sino-Turkish relations will enter a turbulent period in the near future, with the increase in the influence of nationalists in Turkey, and their usual interest in the issues of speakers of Turkish languages ​​such as the Uyghurs, and in light of the gradual growing Chinese presence in the region, and China’s efforts to search for cards A force to consolidate its new presence, which seems to be more noisy than ever.

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