China calls Turkey to respect sovereignty as Beijing’s worries over Xinjiang influence grow

China has told Turkey the two countries should respect each others’ sovereignty and understanding of ethnic issues – in a possible sign of Beijing’s concern about Turkish influence in Xinjiang.

In a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “It is hoped that the two sides will firstly support each other in safeguarding their own sovereignty, security and development interests.”

The two nations should “refrain from participating in activities against each other on international occasions” and “enhance mutual understanding through bilateral channels on differences in historical and ethnic issues”, Wang said, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday.

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Chinese diplomatic observers have expressed concern that an initiative from Ankara to strengthen the political role of the Organisation of Turkic States – a name adopted in November – will increase its influence among Turkic-speaking groups such as the Uygurs in Xinjiang.

Beijing has been accused of serious human rights abuses against Uygurs and other Muslim minorities, but has defended its policies as combating extremism and terrorism.

The group, which was established in 2009 as the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, has its headquarters in Istanbul. Its other members are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, with Turkmenistan and Hungary as observer states.

Cavusoglu said on Wednesday he conveyed Turkey’s “views, expectations and sensitivities” over the Uygurs to Wang.

Wang said the two nations should “abide by the basic norm of international relations of not interfering in each other’s internal affairs”.

About 50,000 Uygurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uygur diaspora outside Central Asia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in July that Uygurs in China should live freely and as “equal citizens”, after refusing to extradite a prominent Uygur activist leader Beijing accused of terrorism.