China and Turkey on Tuesday set aside differences on how to deal with the raging violence in Syria and signed a three-year currency swap deal worth $1.6 billion (euro1.2 billion) to enable bilateral trade in local currencies.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Abdullah Gul oversaw the signing of the agreement, which can be extended, between the People's Bank of China and Turkey's Central Bank. The leaders did not make any statement during the ceremony, but Turkish leaders were widely expected to relay their growing concerns over the violence in neighboring Syria.
The purpose of Xi's visit to Turkey was to discuss bilateral, regional and international issues, but he was not required to attend any news conference where questions about Syria would no doubt have been asked.
Syrian government troops heavily shelled rebellious districts in the resistance stronghold of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 16 people and compounding fears of a new round of bloody urban combat in a country careening toward a civil war.
Turkey's government has said the world cannot remain silent in the face of Syrian President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on dissent. But China, along with Russia, has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad's crackdown on protests that killed 5,400 in 2011 alone, according to the U.N.
China on Saturday said it supports the League's proposals. The seemingly contradictory stance appears to reflect Beijing's desire for mediation while remaining averse to U.N. involvement that could lead to the authorization of force, as happened with Libya.
China, which carried out a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, has refused to condemn Syria over the violence. Beijing's authoritarian leaders have themselves used overwhelming force against anti-government protests in Tibet and the traditionally Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Xi, who is expected to become president of the world's most populous nation next year, will meet Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul later Tuesday. Turkey has repeatedly condemned what it calls atrocities in Syria and urged Assad to step down.
Turkey matters in the global debate about the bloodshed because of its 566-mile (911-kilometer) frontier with Syria, and because it has matured into a regional power and potential counter to Iran, a backer of Damascus. About 10,000 Syrians, fleeing the violence, have sought refuge in Turkey.
During his meeting with Xi, Turkey's Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek stressed his government's support for the territorial unity of China, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said. Cicek was apparently referring to unrest in the Xinjiang region of China.
Earlier Tuesday, about 100 Uighurs living in Turkey set two Chinese flags on fire and stamped on them in a protest in Ankara against China's crackdown on the minority group in Xinjiang region. Uighurs are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.
In 2009, violence between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese left nearly 200 dead in western China in the worst riots in China's far west in more than a decade.