A Turkish referendum result giving sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused concern in China as his pan-Turkism ideals may make it more challenging to counter the Uyghur militant groups in the Turkic-speaking restive Xinjiang province. The win is likely to give rise to pan-Turkism, which will make some political powers in the country sympathise or even support terrorists, separatists and religious extremists in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region, Zan Tao, an associate professor at Peking University, told state-run Global Times.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told a Chinese channel on March 11 that Syria is cooperating with China’s intelligence agencies to strike against Uyghur militants in Syria, and he said clearly that Turkey’s border is open to Uyghur jihadists. Assad also claimed that he does not know why the Turkish government is doing nothing to stop them.
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Xinjiang, where the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs are restive for several years over increasing settlements of Han Chinese population from other provinces. China blames separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al-Qaeda affiliate, for violence in the province.
A number of ETIM members are reported to have joined the Islamic State to fight in Syria, and Beijing believes they would return to carry out more attacks.
Pan-Turkism has a long history and it did not start in Erdogan’s era, so the referendum result will not affect China-Turkey relations too much, and the cross-governmental ties will remain the same as before, Hua Liming, a Middle East studies expert and a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, told the daily.
But after the referendum, Turkey’s relations with the US and the EU will surely be damaged, so there is no reason for Erdogan to worsen ties with non-Western powers like China and Russia, he added.
In addition, “Erdogan supports the Belt and Road initiative and he also needs investment to improve the infrastructure in Turkey. Therefore, there is space for cooperation with China,” said Yin Gang, a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“No foreign or domestic political power can effectively challenge Erdogan’s authority in Turkey now. As Erdogan grows more powerful, Turkey will become less and less Westernised,” Hua said.
“The secularisation reform of Turkey, which was started by the country’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has failed eventually,” Hua said.