China silent on Erdogan’s visit to restive region
BEIJING CHINA on Monday failed to report details of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to a restive far-western region where he once accused the Chinese government of genocide.
State media did not report Erdogan’s visit on Sunday to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, until after his arrival on Beijing on Monday, when they mentioned the visit but provided no details or photographs.
The Foreign Ministry, which normally records diplomatic visits, had not reported Erdogan’s trip to Urumqi as of late Monday.
The unusual silence over the first leg of a high-profile diplomatic visit appeared to be linked to the sensitivity of China’s policies towards the Uighurs, a Turkic minority, in the central Asian region.
Turkish media reported Erdogan’s meetings with regional leaders in Urumqi on Sunday and said he was the first Turkish leader to visit Xinjiang.
The website of the Englishlanguage Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, www.todayszaman.com, showed a photograph of Erdogan wearing a traditional Uighur-style outfit while cutting roast lamb, flanked by two Chinese officials.
Erdogan prompted a diplomatic spat with China in July 2009 following ethnic violence between Uighurs and police and Han Chinese residents of Urumqi, which left about 200 people dead and 1,700 injured.
The Turkish leader accused the Chinese government of a “form of genocide” in Xinjiang, called for the United Nations Security Council to discuss the violence there, and said he would welcome a visit to Turkey by exiled Uighur political leader Rebiya Kadeer.
Today’s Zaman said Erdogan was welcomed to Urumqi on Sunday by “a cheering crowd of Uighur Turks celebrating his landmark visit to the city.” Erdogan toured a bazaar, Urumqi’s central mosque, a factory and a Turkish industrial zone, and talked to local residents. He met Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader and the head of the regional government, the newspaper said.
None of these events were reported by the websites of Chinese state media, the regional government or the Foreign Ministry.
China angrily rejected Erdogan’s comments after the rioting in Urumqi in 2009 and said its security forces had responded to a “grave crime orchestrated by the ‘three evil forces’,” referring to religious extremism, separatism and terrorism.
But in a sign that Erdogan’s accusation of genocide had not damaged long-term diplomatic ties, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao shook hands with him during talks in Ankara in October 2010.
Wen and Erdogan were scheduled to meet again later Monday during the first official visit to China by a Turkish leader for 27 years.
Today’s Zaman said Turkey’s commitment to China’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty” had “lifted relations to a strategic partnership in 2010.” Uighurs make up about 40 per cent of Xinjiang’s population of 21 million.