Skip to main content

Turkey airs rare public criticism of China's treatment of Uyghurs

Turkey is openly criticizing China's treatment of the Uyghur minority as more tension emerges between Huawei and its Turkish partner telecom operator Turkcell.
Members of Muslim Uyghur minority present pictures of their relatives detained in China during a press conference in Istanbul, on May 10, 2022. (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

The ties between Turkey and China have gone sour in a rare public display recently with the top Turkish diplomat openly saying the progress in the bilateral relations has “slowed down” over Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. 

“China is disturbed by our position defending the Uyghur Turks’ rights before the international community,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency during a year-end briefing last week.

China is widely accused by human rights organizations of oppressing Uyghurs, one of the country's largest predominantly Muslim minority. Those including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have accused Beijing of incarnating tens of thousands of Uyghurs in “camps” in Xingiang and resorting to other means in blatant violation of international laws in a bid to strip off the minority from its Muslim identity.

Cavusoglu also lamented Beijing for what he described as impeding the Turkish ambassador’s request to visit the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region, by trying to dictate terms.

“Why would we be a tool of Chinese propaganda?” he snapped.

His remarks came amid alleged tensions between Huawei and its Turkish partner telecom operator Turkcell over a defense tender. The Chinese tech giant allegedly threatened its Turkish partner with freezing its contracted operations when the latter refused to bow to pull down the bid in the tender, citing cost effectiveness concerns, according to a report by France-based Intelligence Online website. The company’s aggressive competitiveness “damaged its good relations” in Turkey, the report argued. Al-Monitor was unable to independently verify the report.

The Chinese giant that entered the Turkish market in 2002 launched its second-largest international research and development center in Istanbul in 2010. The second center was inaugurated in Ankara last week.

Cavusoglu’s criticism marks a rare public expression of disgruntlement by Ankara. The Turkish government has significantly toned down its reactions vis-a-vis China's treatment of Uyghurs after a major escalation in 2019 when Turkey brought the minority's plight up at the United Nations, condemning Beijing of “torturing” more than a million people. The condemnation prompted the Chinese ambassador to Ankara at the time to openly warn the Turkish government against publicly criticizing Beijing by saying that it could have commercial and economic consequences. 

Turkish criticism of the Uyghurs' treatment has been limited and often drawn swift responses from China. In 2021, the Chinese Embassy in Ankara directly targeted Turkish opposition leaders for commemorating the deaths of the Uyghurs.

"The Chinese side reserves its legitimate right to respond” the Chinese embassy said at the time, leading the Turkish foreign minister to summon the Chinese ambassador. Similarly, after Turkey’s condemnation of the situation in 2019, Beijing suddenly announced the temporary closure of its consulate in Turkey’s Aegean province of Izmir, which is planned to be the last port in China’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure project One Belt, One Road initiative, linking Asia and Europe. 

But despite this tension, trade and infrastructure investments has not been affected between Turkey and China. The trade volume between the two countries reached nearly $40 billion in 2021, according to figures by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, indicating a potential that Ankara can hardly afford to risk given the economic problems the country is facing. 

Reiterating that his country has always backed the one-China policy, Cavusoglu said that Turkey's position wasn’t stemming from a “categorically anti-Chinese” stance.

Yet the top Turkish diplomat referenced a UN report released in late August highlighting these violations. “We have to speak up against this," he said. 

Beijing has not responded yet to Cavusoglu's comments. Reached by Al-Monitor, the Chinese embassy in Ankara was not immediately available for comment. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Turkey Briefing Turkey Briefing

Turkey Briefing

Top Turkey stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial