What do Turks think of Uyghurs

Why China no longer lets Turks into the country

Beijing It's arbitrary. Especially Germans, but also other EU citizens of Turkish descent, with Turkish-sounding names or just entry stamps in their passports from their vacation in Turkey, have recently had problems entering China. Two coaches and two professionals from the Bundesliga basketball team ALBA Berlin were refused entry this month. The Turkish coaching duo Ahmet Caki and Fatih Gezer, the Turkish player Engin Atsür, but also the American Dominique Johnson, who had previously played in Turkey, were not allowed to travel to China for a friendly match.

There are many examples. A German student with a Turkish name who had a valid visa for a year of study in Beijing was simply sent back at the airport. Complaints increase.

The number of unreported cases is likely to be high. Any reference to Turkey can become a “red cloth”. At first it was speculated that it had to do with excessive security measures ahead of the summit of the industrialized and emerging countries (G20) in Hangzhou in early September.

But the problems persisted afterwards. Today observers not only explain the procedure with Chinese fear of terrorism, but simply see it as harassment. The cause could be the tensions between China and Turkey over the Uighurs. Reference is made to the anger in China over the practice of Turkish embassies to issue Uyghur refugees with replacement passport documents for onward travel to Turkey, where they would get real passports.

Uighur groups under suspicion of terrorism

The Muslim minority in the troubled Xinjiang region in northwest China is a Turkic people and feels oppressed by the Chinese. The Chinese authorities, in turn, accuse Uighur groups of terrorism and separatism.

"We are aware of Germans with a Turkish name or Turkish entry stamp in their passport who were arbitrarily refused a visa or entry with an issued visa," confirmed an employee of the embassy in Beijing, who did not want to be named.

"The sometimes disproportionate approach to issuing visas and checking travelers can also be explained by the limited capabilities of the Chinese security authorities, which often lack instruments for a differentiated analysis of security risks," explains Moritz Rudolf from the Merics China Institute in Berlin.

Moral for Germans of Turkish descent

"Due to its ethnic and religious ties, Turkey sees itself as the protector of the Turkic peoples, especially the Uyghurs," explains Rudolf. In 2009, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, called the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang “a kind of genocide”, which China outragedly rejected as interference.

"Tensions between Beijing and Ankara could intensify because the threat posed by Islamist terrorism in China has increased," says Rudolf. China is critical of the “increasingly self-confident action of the Turkish leadership on the Uyghur question”.

The meeting between Erdogan and China's head of state and party Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Hangzhou also failed to clear the air.

So Germans of Turkish descent continue to be held in kin. With three million, Germany has the largest Turkish community in Europe and is therefore particularly affected. "Since China tends to put ethnicity above nationality, it is not surprising that the suspicion also relates to ethnic Turks from other countries," explains US expert Shannon Tiezzi.

Turks themselves are worse off. "The son of a friend, who got a place at the foreign language and culture college, was detained at the airport for a long time," says a Turk in Beijing.

The 18-year-old flew alone for the first time. The young student was only released after his loud, indignant protest. "I told them they could have called the university to check his details."

Economic cooperation also suffers. "A large number of business people who otherwise could come without any problems are now being refused entry," says another Turk. Even Turkish diplomats have already been picked up at the airport and - highly undiplomatic - have been questioned for a long time, it is said.

China is also putting pressure on Brussels. The currently negotiated visa waiver for Turks in the EU is a thorn in the side of Beijing. "Chinese security authorities have expressed major concerns about the EU," said an EU diplomat. "It is apparently assumed that Chinese interests are threatened by the uncontrolled entry of Uyghurs with Turkish passports into Europe."

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