Uighurs dancing in streets as Beijing battles extremism, say Turkish journalists in Xinjiang

Turkish reporters invited by Beijing to visit China’s Xinjiang province described it as a model for counter-terrorism and a paradise for the Muslim Uighur minority, China’s pro-government Global Times reported on Sunday. 

Turkey, once a haven for exiles and refugees from the Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority, has been largely silent following reports over the past year from the United Nations, The New York Times, Human Rights Watch and others detailing China’s treatment of more than a million Uighurs in re-education camps in their home region of Xinjiang. Beijing has said the camps are vocational centres focused on de-radicalising potential terrorists. 

Gökhan Karakaş, a reporter for Turkish daily Milliyet, visited Xinjiang in July and found a joyful place of economic development and advanced technology. 

“Walking in the streets in Xinjiang, we can feel local residents live a stable and happy life,” he said. “What impressed me most is that many Uighur dance in the streets at night and they were happy as they like."

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan similarly said that people in Xinjiang lived happy lives. 

Tunc Akkoç, chair of Turkey’s Aydınlık newspaper, visited a vocational centre and spoke with dozens of trainees, including a woman who said she had been forced to steal for a Uighur gang then forced into two religious marriages. 

“What happened in Xinjiang in recent years is actually a modernisation breakthrough," Akkoç told Global Times. “The regional government seeks ways to remove the root of extremism. It's not only about getting rid of flies, but also about drying the swamp.”

Akkoç said he learned that before being enrolled in the training centres, the young people were extremists who would persecute women and spread hatred.

“I looked into the eyes of young people and talked to them together with other reporters,” said Akkoç. “If they are telling lies, we would have known it.”

A Uighur refugee in Turkey told Agence-France Presse this week he was terrified of being sent back to China after being held in a deportation centre near Istanbul for months. 

Fears have spread through the Uighur community in Turkey after rumours that some of their number had been deported, including a woman and her two children.

Aihemaiti Xianmixiding, 29, who has Turkish residency and work permits, runs a factory in Istanbul making car accessories. He was arrested in May and is under investigation for financing a little-known terror group called the Uighur National Movement, according to court documents seen by AFP.

"I had never heard of (this organisation) before," Xianmixiding told AFP by phone from the deportation centre.

Many observers have linked Turkey’s stance on Xinjiang to its troubled economy and an effort to take advantage of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure development plan that includes new land and sea routes to Europe. Due to an economic downturn, foreign investment like the $3.6 billion promised by a Chinese bank last year is crucial for Turkey. 

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry plans to send an observation team to Xinjiang soon.