Sun May 14, 2017 5:54AM
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony ahead of the Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, May 13, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony ahead of the Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, May 13, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Beijing has called for the expansion of counter-terrorism cooperation with Ankara, amid reported concerns that a Turkic ethnic group from China’s western Xinjiang region is fighting alongside militants in the Middle East.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for such cooperation during a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the sidelines of a summit about China’s new Silk Road plan on Saturday.

“In order to promote even greater development of relations, China and Turkey must respect and give consideration to each other’s core concerns and deepen security and counter-terrorism cooperation,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying.

“A peaceful, stable and developing Middle East is in the common interests of the international community. China intends to strengthen contacts with all respective parties and to contribute to the Middle East achieving peace and stability as soon as possible,” Xi added.

The ministry did not provide any details about the nature of enhanced cooperation between the two countries.

Beijing often accuses what it describes as exiled Uighur separatist groups of planning attacks in its resource-rich Xinjiang Province. Some foreign-based Uighurs claim Beijing is cracking down on the ethnic minority.

Daesh-affiliated terrorists in Syria

Beijing claims that hundreds of Uighurs have traveled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey and some have ended up fighting for terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Syria’s ambassador to China told Reuters last week that up to 5,000 Uighurs were fighting in various militant groups in Syria and most were fighting “under their own banner” to promote their separatist cause.

Last year, Turkey vowed to keep its doors open to the Uighurs fleeing what rights activists have called religious persecution in China. The government in Beijing denies accusations that it restricts the religious freedom of the group.

China also maintains that the Turkic ethnic group is separatist, and that some groups in the Uighur community are already attempting to establish an independent state.

The Uighurs briefly declared independence twice before, in 1933 and 1944. The region, however, was brought under the complete control of China in 1949.