ANKARA – Turkey’s foreign minister on Sunday said China should not label all Muslim ethnic Uighurs as terrorists, following talks with his Chinese counterpart in Germany.
U.N. experts believe China is holding a million Muslims in camps in the western Xinjiang region where most of the country’s ethnic Uighur, the largest Muslim minority, live.
The region has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organized “terrorist” movement seeking independence.
“Whether Turk, Uighur Turk, Han Chinese, Buddhist or Christian … it is not right to call all Uighur Turks terrorists just because one or two terrorists came from a certain ethnic group,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Germany.
Cavusoglu held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference. The minister said he had brought up the Uighur issue with Wang.
“Uighur Turks are Chinese citizens so our wish is that Uighur Turks exercise all their rights as first class citizens. These are our expectations,” he said in televised comments.
The Turkish minister criticized skeptical statements from Beijing over links between Turks and Uighurs, insisting they had “ethnic, religious, cultural and historical ties.”
But Cavusoglu said Ankara did not want to use the issue as a “political tool” against Beijing like other countries, which he did not name.
The Turkish minister’s comments were cautious, especially compared with the foreign ministry spokesman’s remarks last February, which described China’s treatment of Uighurs as “a great embarrassment for humanity.”
Last year, Beijing invited Turkey to send a delegation to Xinjiang, a meeting that Cavusoglu said could take place depending on the program’s details.
“It is not possible to send a delegation only for official meetings,” Cavusoglu added.
The majority of mainly Muslim countries have opted to steer clear of public statements on the issue, for fear of angering China, which is an important trading partner.
Footballer Mesut Ozil, an Arsenal midfielder and former German international of Turkish origin, drew much fury from Beijing in December after he condemned China’s crackdown.