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Erdogan’s China woes: the vaccine and the Uighurs

Turkey’s reliance on China for a COVID-19 vaccine has stirred anxiety in nationalist and Islamist quarters that Ankara might give concessions on the Uighur issue in return.
Uighurs living in Turkey stage a demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the deadly ethnic unrests of 1997 in Gulja, China's far-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Ankara on February 5, 2020. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing accusations of bargaining with China on the extradition of Uighur dissidents in return for a COVID-19 vaccine — this on top of criticism that political and economic motives swayed his decision to go for a Chinese vaccine. The accusations were fueled by delays in the delivery of the first batch of vaccines, which coincided with China’s ratification of a 2017 bilateral extradition treaty in late December. The Turkish parliament, currently in recess, is reportedly likely to follow suit in February.

Opposition lawmakers have drawn a link between the vaccine delay and the ratification of the extradition treaty, with some charging that Ankara is under pressure to extradite certain Uighurs in return for the vaccine. The Uighurs have ethnic, linguistic and religious bonds with Turkey, where about 23,000 of them are estimated to have taken refuge.

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