May 17, 2019 / 1:24 AM / 7 days ago

China tells Turkey to support its fight against Uighur militants

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has called on Turkey to support its fight against militants operating in China’s restive far western region of Xinjiang, following criticism from Turkey about rights in a part of China heavily populated by a Turkic, mostly Muslim people.

China has faced growing international opprobrium for setting up what it calls vocation training centres to combat extremism in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur people, which many Western countries view as internment camps.

Turkey is the only Muslim nation which has regularly expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang, including in February at the U.N. Human Rights Council, to China’s anger.

Meeting Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal in Beijing, the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi said that China sets great store on its ties with Turkey, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

China “has always respected Turkey’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and supports the efforts of the Turkish side to safeguard national security and stability”, the ministry paraphrased Wang as saying.

“It is hoped that the Turkish side can also earnestly respect China’s core interests in safeguarding national sovereignty and security, and support China’s efforts to combat the ‘East Turkistan’ terrorist forces and safeguard the overall situation of the strategic cooperation between the two countries.”

China blames a group called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement for many of the attacks in recent years in Xinjiang. But many diplomats and foreign experts have cast doubt on whether the group exists in any coherent form.

The Foreign Ministry cited Onal as saying that Turkey supports China’s efforts to safeguard national unity and combat “terrorist forces” and is willing to deepen pragmatic cooperation with China.

Hundreds have died in unrest in recent years in Xinjiang.

Beijing says its de-radicalisation efforts in Xinjiang have brought unprecedented stability, pointing to a lack of violence in the past two years or so.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill

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