Hundreds of Uyghurs protested in Istanbul on Thursday over the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for talks with his Turkish counterpart, expected to focus on coronavirus vaccines and the countries’ extradition treaty.
Wang also met privately with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as members of the 50,000-strong Uyghurs community protested against the treatment of their ethnic kin in China.
The visit coincides with a spike in new virus infections in the country that follows an easing of restrictions at the start of the month.
Turkey is using the Chinese firm Sinovac’s CoronaVac jab in its inoculation effort and is currently negotiating new deliveries.
But the Uyghur community fears that China is making new shipments dependent on Turkey’s ratification of an extradition treaty that the parliament in Beijing approved late last year.
Beijing approved an extradition treaty between the two nations in December and with the deal awaiting ratification by Ankara’s parliament.
Both countries officially deny any such link and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that he had “conveyed our sensitivity and thoughts on Uyghurs Turks” to Wang.
Turkey and China “will enhance our cooperation on (the) fight against (the) pandemic”, as well as on vaccines, Cavusoglu’s tweet added.
The protesters waved sky blue flags of Uyghurs separatists’ self-proclaimed state of East Turkestan as they gathered in Istanbul’s historic old town chanting “China, stop the genocide!”
Turkish police forced a smaller group of protesters to move away from China’s embassy in Ankara.
Rights groups believe at least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps spread out across the vast northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Beijing strongly denies the allegations and says it is organising training programmes and work schemes to help stamp out extremism in the region.
Uyghurs speak a Turkic language and have cultural ties with the mostly Muslim but officially secular country that make it a favoured destination for avoiding persecution back home.
“I am frustrated. Why is Turkey receiving the Chinese foreign minister?” protester Abdullatif Ragip told AFP. “They do a lot of harm in East Turkestan,” the 62-year-old said.
Cavusoglu has argued that Ankara’s ratification of the extradition agreement would not mean it “will release Uyghurs to China”.
But Uyghurs in Turkey are pressing Erdogan’s government to join a new wave of Western sanctions against Chinese officials over their actions in Xinjiang.
“We are scared about the future,” said protesters Rahile Seker. “What will happen to our children? Turkey should open its eyes and stand by innocent Uighurs.”
Demonstrator Feyzullah Kaymak said Turkey must ask the Chinese foreign minister what happens in camps.
“We want Turkey to ask the Chinese foreign minister what happens over there … We want Turkey to raise its voice.”
Cavusoglu’s tweet said he and Wang “discussed (the) potential of economic cooperation” on the 50th anniversary of Ankara and Beijing establishing diplomatic ties. (Source: CNA)