Erdogan ‘shuns Uyghurs as China provides support to ease Turkey’s economic crisis’

Erdogan ‘shuns Uyghurs as China provides support to ease Turkey’s economic crisis’
An Uyghur protest in Berlin back in 2009 when Erdogan was still offering strident support to the Turkic-speaking minority in China. / Claudia Himmelreich, Fact Finders Berlin.
By bne IntelIiNews September 18, 2020

The reality of Turkey’s crisis-stricken economy and the financial support China provides to ease its bite have caused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to in recent times make no more than “diplomatically bland” remarks about Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang that he was once so outspoken about.

That’s the contention of a September 16 Foreign Policy article [paywall], which says that “with few friends left in the West, Ankara is counting on Beijing for help”.

Referring to the Turkic-speaking Muslim group subject to horrific human rights violations, Erdogan said in 2009: “The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise.”

Turkey has been a safe haven for Uyghurs fleeing persecution ever since the Chinese Communist Party took control of Xinjiang in 1949 and it hosts one of the largest Uyghur diaspora populations in the world. But in 2016, Turkey arrested Abdulkadir Yapcan, a prominent Uyghur political activist living in the country since 2001 and initiated his extradition. The next year, Turkey and China signed an agreement allowing extradition, even if the claimed offence is only illegal in one of the two countries. Since early 2019, Turkey has arrested hundreds of Uyghurs and sent them to deportation centres.

Attempting to explain Erdogan’s “remarkable U-turn” in his policy towards the Uyghurs, the article looks at economic benefits Turkey—described as having become an “authoritarian” country from which Western companies and investors are staying away—has secured from China in years of late, noting:

• China is now Turkey’s second largest import partner after Russia.

• China has invested $3bn in Turkey between 2016 and 2019 and intends to double that by the end of next year.

• When the Turkish lira’s value dropped by more than 40% in Turkey’s 2018 currency crisis, the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China provided Turkey with $3.6bn in loans for energy and transportation projects.

• In June 2019, in the wake of the Istanbul mayoral election that indicated crumbling support for Erdogan, China’s central bank transferred $1bn under a swap agreement between the Chinese and Turkish central banks last renewed in 2012. 

• Amid Turkey’s economic turmoil this year and with the Turkish central bank burning through dollar reserves, Beijing started allowing Turkish companies to use the Chinese yuan to make trade payments, allowing them easier access to Chinese liquidity.

• China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for building infrastructure has brought Beijing a strategic foothold on the Mediterranean Sea as Turkey has completed a railroad from Kars in eastern Turkey via Tbilisi, Georgia, to Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, from where it links to transportation networks to China. In 2015, a Chinese consortium bought 65% of Turkey’s third-largest container terminal, Kumport, in Istanbul, acquiring a pivotal position in container transportation.

• Chinese investors have helped salvage Erdogan’s own poorly managed mega-infrastructure projects. In January, a Chinese consortium bought 51% of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge connecting Europe and Asia across the Bosporus after revenue projections failed and the Italian-Turkish consortium controlling the bridge wanted out.

• This year, China’s Export and Credit Insurance Corp committed up to $5bn to the Turkey Wealth Fund for use in BRI projects.

• China is providing $1.7bn to build the Hunutlu coal-fired power plant on the Mediterranean Sea.

• Ankara plans to sign a deal with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp to build Turkey’s third nuclear power plant.

• Turkey’s Bora ballistic missile—modelled on the Chinese B-611 missile, introduced in 2017, and deployed in the Turkish military operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in May 2019—is a product of bilateral defence cooperation, as was participation of Chinese military officers in Turkey’s Ephesus military exercise in 2018.

• China’s Huawei, designated a national security threat in the US and elsewhere due to its ties to the Chinese government and military, faces no such opposition in Turkey. Its share in the Turkish market has grown from 3% in 2017 to 30% in 2019.

• Chinese technology company ZTE took over 48% of Netas, Turkey’s key telecommunications equipment manufacturer, in 2016. 

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