Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Beijing amid tensions over China’s treatment of its Uighur minority and sensitive negotiations surrounding the possible purchase of a Chinese missile system.
While the sides enjoy outwardly friendly relations, Turkish public sentiment has been inflamed by reports that members of the Uighur minority located in China’s northwest have been restricted in practicing their Islamic religion, especially during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The visit comes just a few weeks after protests in Istanbul sparked by the forced deportation of 109 Uighurs from Thailand to China. Angry mobs attacked the Thai consulate in Istanbul, while China and Thailand issued safety advisories to their citizens in Turkey.
Thailand has since claimed that it has checked on the welfare of the deported Uighurs and says they are being treated fairly.
Uighurs share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with Turks.
Erdogan was due to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday afternoon following a formal welcoming ceremony.
The visit comes amid growing economic ties between the two countries. The trade relationship between the two countries is now worth about US$24m a year.
However, it could be overshadowed by Turkey’s 2013 agreement to buy China’s HQ-9 air defense missile system, which has been criticized as incompatible with NATO weapons programs. Some also fear it could leak alliance military secrets to Beijing.
Additional reporting from Associated Press