Turkey, China to Strengthen Defense Cooperation Amid Strains

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism and defense cooperation amid recent protests in Turkey against China’s treatment of Uighur people and concerns about a missile system sale.

Erdogan told his counterpart at a meeting of the two leaders in Beijing on Wednesday that Turkey respects Chinese sovereignty and doesn’t support the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, Chinese vice foreign minister Zhang Ming said after the talks. The militant separatist group operates in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province and is listed by the United Nations and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

“Turkey will not allow anyone to use our territory to do anything to harm China’s national interests or security,” Erdogan was cited by Zhang as saying.

Relations between China and Turkey have come under strain after scattered protests in Istanbul earlier this month in support of China’s Uighur minority who live primarily in Xinjiang.

Turkish nationalist groups, which see a kinship to other Turkic peoples in Central Asia, attacked Asian tourists in Istanbul’s old city, protested against Chinese workers at a thermal energy plant and ransacked the Thai consulate after reports that Thailand was deporting Uighurs back to China.

Erdogan’s Reaction

The violence prompted Erdogan to vouch for the safety of Asian visitors, saying the attacks were “provocations” ahead of his China visit.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on July 9 condemning Thailand’s deportation of Uighurs to China, saying it was a violation of international humanitarian law and occurred despite Turkish efforts to prevent it.

When asked about a deal to purchase a Chinese missile defense system that U.S. officials have protested, Zhang said only that the two countries “have strong interests in defense cooperation and will strengthen cooperation in this area.”

Erdogan said at a news conference in Ankara on Tuesday before leaving on the Beijing trip that China provided the best offer for a missile defense system in Turkey and should “enrich” its bid. U.S. officials have told Turkey that a missile defense system from China couldn’t be integrated with NATO systems.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Gregory Turk in Shanghai at gturk2@bloomberg.net; Bonnie Cao in New York at bcao4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Liu at jliu42@bloomberg.net Gregory Turk, Joe Sobczyk

— With assistance by Gregory Turk, and Bonnie Cao

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