BEIJING (AP) — Turkey's top diplomat vowed Thursday to root out militants plotting against China, signaling closer cooperation and a tougher stance against suspected Uighur militants hailing from China's Xinjiang region who once represented a major irritant in bilateral relations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters during a visit to Beijing that his government would treat threats to China's security as threats to itself and would not allow any "anti-China activity inside Turkey or territory controlled by Turkey."
Cavusoglu's comments, which came after a meeting and warm handshakes with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, highlight the stark change in tone from Ankara in recent years regarding China's Uighur ethnic minority, a Turkic people who share cultural and linguistic ties with Anatolian Turks.
Until recently, relations between Ankara and Beijing had been plagued by distrust largely over Turkey's campaign to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a China ally — and its sheltering of Uighur refugees.
Human rights groups have long accused China of oppressing its roughly 10 million Uighurs with severe restrictions on language, culture and religion and inflaming a cycle of resentment and radicalization. Hundreds have died in Xinjiang in violent clashes in recent years and China now keeps the region, with a land area comparable to Iran, under a constant lockdown with massive policing and surveillance efforts that activists say are rife with abuse.
Thousands of Uighurs have fled China in recent years to seek asylum in Turkey, with many traveling on to Syria to join Islamic militant groups or simply to escape persecution and find a new home. In response, China has pressed allies including Russia and Syria to share intelligence about Uighur militants fighting in Syria and help avert their return to strike at China.
Cavusoglu endorsed China's efforts on Thursday, adding that Turkey "fully appreciated all the actions China has taken" in combating the Islamic State group as well as reaching a political settlement in the Syrian War.
Wang, meanwhile, said that "deepening our collaboration on anti-terror and security is the most central part" of the two countries' relationship.
Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan had positioned himself as a champion of Turkic peoples and in 2009 accused Beijing of committing "genocide" toward Uighurs. The two governments clashed again in 2015 when Turkey offered asylum to Uighur refugees detained in Thailand whom China had demanded back.
Since then, however, the China-Turkey relationship has recovered swiftly amid a broader political realignment. China, Russia and Turkey have strengthened their partnership while Erdogan has pulled away from the orbit of European governments amid disputes over human rights and other issues.
China has expressed openness toward Turkey joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance comprised of Russia and several central Asian states that is seen as a counterweight to NATO.
Turkey and Russia have also backed several major Chinese initiatives — including Xi Jinping's Belt-and-Road project to develop infrastructure spanning the Eurasian continent — that were initially shunned by Western powers.