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Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

  • VOA News

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and his Chinese President Xi Jinping inspect honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 29, 2015.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and his Chinese President Xi Jinping inspect honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 29, 2015.

Turkey's president is meeting top officials in China to strengthen ties that have been strained over the delayed sale of a Chinese missile system and Beijing's treatment of its Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.

After landing in Beijing Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang and is also expected to confer with President Xi Jinping following a formal ceremony.

Erdogan has been a strong critic of China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in the violence-plagued western region of Xinjiang, where China said it is fighting foreign-backed separatists.

The plight of the Uighurs has garnered deep sympathy among many Turks, who share strong cultural, religious and linguistic ties with the group.

Protests

Earlier this month, protesters outside Beijing's consulate in Istanbul burned Chinese flags and harassed Korean tourists, who were apparently mistaken for Chinese. Some Chinese-owned businesses in the Turkish capital were also attacked.

The violence led China to issue a travel warning for its citizens.

Much of the Turkish frustration has centered on reports that Beijing is tightly restricting Uighur religious traditions, including preventing Muslims from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Turkey earlier this month sent China an official complaint, saying it was "saddened" over the restrictions.

The Uighur issue has "caused quite a few setbacks" in the relationship with Turkey, according to an op-ed in China's state-run Global Times.

The opinion piece accused Turkey of not keeping its promises to China on Xinjiang, and also accused Turkish diplomatic agencies of providing "assistance to smuggle Xinjiang Uighur terrorists into the Middle East."

China, which denies mistreating Uighurs, has repeatedly attempted to link Uighurs to jihadist violence in Syria and Iraq.

Chinese missile system

Another topic expected to come up during Erdogan's visit is the long-standing talks between Turkey and China on the sale of a $3.4 billion air defense missile system.

Turkey, a NATO member, agreed in principle in 2013 to buy the system, but has yet to sign the agreement.

Some Western countries have expressed alarm over Ankara's decision to develop closer military ties with Beijing.

Ahead of his trip, President Erdogan said Ankara is open to an improved offer on the HQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missile system, but acknowledged "some developments have caused impediments."

"We'll discuss these issues again during this visit," he said, according to the Xinhua news outlet. "Any offer that will enrich this appropriate proposal will be welcomed by us."

This is Erdogan's first visit to China since becoming president in 2014. The Turkish leader also made a landmark visit to China in 2012, becoming the first Turkish prime minister to visit Beijing in nearly three decades.

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