Translated by Tanem Zaman
Hello, good day. Over the delay of the awaited corona vaccines from China, there were immediate speculations. It was said that the Chinese vaccines are being used as a diplomatic tool, and as a weapon against Turkey. However, the latest announcements made show that this issue has been resolved. But the basis of the speculations are obvious: In May of 2017, the Turkish committee traveled to Beijing, conducted bilateral discussions and the then-Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ signed a joint agreement with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China. That joint agreement was the Extradition Treaty. This treaty made in 2017, was accepted by the majority of votes in the National People’s Congress of China on December 26, Saturday. Now, Turkey is next in the line. Turkey is expected to sign this agreement, to be more exact, China expects Turkey to sign it. Because in the Extradition Treaty, there is a requirement for the return of some Uighurs living in Turkey.
There is a powerful Uighur community in Turkey. Some of them have come here years ago, some have come here recently, and they became organized here. There are people who advocate for Uighurs’ rights on various platforms — there are people in academia, and there are also people inside the government. We shall say that there is quite a lot of Uighur lobby and there is already an advantageous ground to it. The Uighur issue is also referred to as the East Turkistan issue as the remaining of the Muslims are affected by it as well. There are two factors here: being ethnically Turkish, and religiously Muslim. In accordance, there is an issue in which Islam and Turkishness is at stake here. In Turkey, nationalism and conservatism are both separately and interconnectedly powerful. And for a period of time now, the country has been governed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which we shall call the “prominent party of the islamic community”, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that is known to be the prominent party of Turkish nationalism. AKP and MHP are leading the country together. As a result, we are stepping on a very sensitive spot here. It is extremely worrying for the Uighurs in Turkey that this agreement will be signed by the Turkish state. Regarding this topic, they are conducting significant lobbying activities for this agreement to not be signed. However, we are aware of the fact that China will contrarily request this agreement to be signed and for further action to be taken. Right after the agreement is signed, presumably, there will be some lists coming to Turkey from China. We can guess that they have very strong intelligence networks. China is a very powerful country. In any field regarding intelligence, especially electronic intelligence, they have a very strong infrastructure, personnel and it seems like this matter will give Turkey a headache.
I did a broadcast at the beginning of September and it was called “Why is the Uighur issue, which is the talk of the world, not on Turkey’s political agenda?”. I made many comments there. I do not want to repeat what I had already said. But it is beneficial to underline certain talking points: We know that the current Turkish government has significantly improved their relationship with China, and that they want to improve it further. Especially in the financial field, we know that Turkey wants to develop its ties with China in regards to money. In a strategic sense, we also know that Turkey is in a search. On the other hand, another subject we know is that now, China is more active than before in foreign policy, they are following an expansionist path and they are comfortably using their economic and strategic ties to improve these relations. There is constant news on China’s initiatives to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Central Europe. We are also aware that they are in a serious competition with the United States on this matter, especially with how Trump wants to escalate the China issue. In accordance, if the matter at hand is a global evolution from unipolarity to bipolarity, China is a very strong candidate to be one of the two poles just like Russia — maybe they already became one. Especially on a financial aspect they are very powerful.
Also, as we know the situation regarding the pandemic, China is considered the birthplace of COVID-19, but they recovered from it as soon as possible. As we also know, they recovered from the pandemic faster than other countries, and even if they haven’t fully recovered from it, they took it under control and are helping out other countries with the fight against the pandemic — sometimes through aid, sometimes through commercial activity; first it was masks, now it is the vaccine— , and we know that they are using this to improve diplomatic ties. China has gradually increased its effectiveness along with this virus. And it seems like it will reinforce it further. Initially, it was naively thought that due to the fact that it emerged from Wuhan and that it occupied China the most, that it would also break China’s power to a great extent. But of course, those who assumed this went through a big shock. When we look at it now, it is seen that both the US and many Western countries are affected from the coronavirus way worse than China.
Many years ago, when the Justice and Development Party came to power, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the party chair, but not the prime minister — he was banned, as you all know. He made a trip to China. It was the most important trip he made after the elections, I am not sure if it was the first trip he made but it was the most important one. A plane full of journalists, businessmen, politicians, and diplomats went to China and held official talks for days. I attended that trip on behalf of Vatan newspaper. Trips to Beijing and Shanghai were crucial, but we also travelled to other free zones. After they paid official visits, they held a press conference with China’s most important name at the time. Prime Minister of China Zhu Rongji and Erdoğan held a press conference after the meeting. I had done extensive research prior to that trip. It was clear even on that date – the date was January of 2013 – that the East Turkistan issue was a serious matter between Turkey and China. It was also brought up during the press conference they held. Back then, Erdoğan had already underlined the collective fight against terrorism and respect towards China’s territorial integrity. And the Prime Minister of China said the following:
“Once again, the Turkish state has confirmed that they will not allow activities that are to the detriment of China, or the East Turkestan National Congress to take place on the home front. This is a very gratifying matter.”
Since 2003, that is to say when AKP first came into power, there is an agreement made in a trip where Erdoğan was treated as the prime minister even though he was banned from political office. It is interesting to note that before AKP came into power, there was a coalition government in Turkey and the MHP Chair Devlet Bahçeli, who was the Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government, also had gone to China, and had visited the Xinjiang region and no problem had occurred. Thus, this showed us how right-wing politics in Turkey can be pragmatist. Then came Erdoğan. In the same manner, Erdoğan accepted China’s sensitivities. However, in the meantime, AKP gave the Uighur Turks, and at large East Turkestanis, the green light to come to Turkey. Although not yet green, let’s call it yellow light. Even though people did not flood into the country, they saw Turkey as a safer place.
But things got hectic especially after the Al-Qaeda and ISIS attacks escalated, and the number of fighters –volunteers, terrorists, call it what you want– of Chinese origin flagrantly increased. Especially in Syria, it was known that Uighurs within ISIS were extremely forceful. It is also said that they had gone to the Chechen War, but more importantly they were said to be just beside us and this paved the way for China’s claims. The Uighur presence inside the global jihadist terrorism networks further catalyzed China’s policies aimed at the Uighurs. Nevertheless, there was major criticism from the West. Concentration camp allegations, satellite images of these, etc.. International human rights organizations seriously went after this matter. Western media seriously went after this matter. However, during this whole process, Turkey where AKP has been in power for years–, usually preferred to keep silent, there was no open criticism. But on the other hand, Turkey allowed the Uighurs and the East Turkestanis residing in Turkey to be found, it is that kind of double standard-politics. But now it is seen that along with this agreement this may not be so sustainable. This was a complex sentence, I am aware. To sustain… In other words, the AKP government, or the Erdoğan-Bahçeli alliance, may not be able to sustain both good relations with Beijing and protect the existence of Uighurs and East Turkestanis. Besides, Uighurs are very concerned in this regard. But they too, in an interesting way, pay attention to not raise their voice too loud, and to not be at odds with the government in power.
We are going through a fascinating period. The determining factor here will be Beijing’s attitude, of course. If Beijing reacts and says that they will no longer accept Ankara’s such policies, their two-sided policy, and if they pull out a number of advantages, in other words if they implicitly or explicitly blackmail Turkey, things can escalate. From what I observed and what I followed up with, those who are defending this East Turkestanis case in Turkey are praying for things to not escalate. They know that Ankara does not hold much power against Beijing. They know that Turkey cannot side against Beijing, but they also believe that they will not be abandoned by Turkey to China’s mercy. But as days pass, and as China’s pressure increases, it is certain that such belief is wearing off.
By the way, it is important to note that there is a very strong Chinese lobby in Turkey. The simplest example to this is the example of the Fatherland Party (VP). Everyday on TV, on various different channels, and out here, Doğu Perinçek can make remarks that criticize Uighurs through PKK, can openly accuse Uighurs with terrorism and this does not cause him much trouble. On the other hand, China’s certain activities, they have radios, they have media outlets— are official. In accordance China will not want to sacrifice Turkey. Turkey is a very powerful country in the region, important in both economic and in strategic aspects. For China’s new foreign policy perspective —or if not new, for a fairly visible foreign policy perspective— Turkey is always a country that is advantageous to win over. As Turkey also has a very intense relationship with the West, there is an interesting balance. However, the biggest tension mounting from this is on the shoulders of East Turkestanis, if not to start off with Uighurs.
So, if we are to ask once again, why is the Uighur issue which is the talk of the world, not on Turkey’s political agenda? Why are the politicians who put such a big emphasis on nationalism and conservatism follow an ostrich policy when it comes to the Uighur issue? That is what is referred to as Realpolitik, anywhere you go. These are the realities of Realpolitik diplomacy. However, at one point, this diplomacy’s reality might take away your opportunity to sustain certain policies. At this stage, one needs to understand the Uighur’s concerns, and to show consideration for them. But we should also underline that our observations show that they are not so hopeful, or they are losing hope. It is very interesting, everyone’s going through a rough patch. Probably, the most undisturbed party here is the Beijing administration, Chinese administration. But I am not sure if this issue can be solved through the continuation of the status quo, whether it be Uighurs or the Turkish state. Yes, that is all I have to say, have a good day.