Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while in Beijing this week, told reporters from his home country that a “solution” to help ethnically Turkic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities held in Chinese internment camps is possible, “taking into account the sensitivities” of both sides.
“I believe we can find a solution to the issue taking into account the sensitivities of both sides,” Erdogan told Turkish journalists in Beijing before flying back to Turkey, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported, citing an article from the Hurriyet newspaper in Turkey published on Thursday.
Erdogan has been the most outspoken Islamic leader against China’s oppression of Uighurs, referring to Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang as “genocide” while serving as Turkey’s prime minister a decade ago.
More recently, since China intensified its campaign in 2017 to imprison hundreds of thousands of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang-based concentration camps, the Erdogan administration has continued to criticize Beijing.
In February, Turkey’s foreign ministry lambasted China’s treatment of Uighurs as a “great shame for humanity,” adding that China is subjecting detainees held at the camps “to torture and political brainwashing.”
Chinese state media, however, suggested this week that Erdogan changed his tune during his trip to Beijing this week.
Although Chinese state-run news outlets indicated that Erdogan endorsed the camps during after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday, saying ethnic minorities live happily in Xinjiang, AFP notes that “he made no such comments to Turkish reporters.”
Erdogan reportedly cautioned against those who seek to “abuse” the Uighur issue to fuel tensions with China, a key investor and trading partner.
“This abuse is having a negative impact on Turkish-Chinese relations. It is necessary that we do not give opportunity to such abuse,” Erdogan reportedly declared.
Erdogan said that Turkey could “send a delegation to East Turkestan,” referring to the Muslim Uighur-majority region of Xinjiang, adding that Beijing was open to the proposal.
Uighurs belong to a Turkic group that shares cultural and linguistic similarities with similar ethnic groups in the Asian region.
The Muslim world, particularly the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has stayed mostly silent about China’s crackdown on Islam adherents.
Several news outlets have suggested that Muslim-majority countries have turned a blind eye to the mistreatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China out of concern for their economic relationship with Beijing.
This year, a top Pentagon official accused U.S. rival China of forcing up to three million predominantly Uighur Muslim minorities into “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, where prisoners face extrajudicial incarceration, torture, communist indoctrination, forced labor, and the renunciation of their faith and native language, among other human rights abuses.
Beijing has denied the assertions, arguing that its internment camps are vocational and training centers aimed at combating religious extremisms, terrorism, and separatism.