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  • Policy Studies 53

    Ethno-Diplomacy:The Uyghur Hitch in Sino-Turkish Relations

    Yitzhak Shichor

    About this IssueBeginning in 1949, China responded to

    so-called Uyghur separatism and the questfor Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) independ-ence as a domestic problem. Since themid-1990s, however, when it became awareof the international aspects of this prob-lem, Beijing has begun to pressure Turkeyto limit its support for Uyghur activism.Aimed not only at cultural preservationbut also at Eastern Turkestan independ-ence, Uyghur activism remained unnoticeduntil the 1990s, despite the establishmentin 1971 of Sino-Turkish diplomatic rela-tions. It has gathered momentum as aresult of Chinas post-Mao opening, theSoviet disintegration, increased Uyghurmigration, the growing Western concernfor human rights, and the widespread useof the Internet. Until the mid-1990sTurkeys leaders managed to defy Chinesepressure because they sympathized withthe Uyghurs, were personally committedto their leader sa Yusuf Alptekin, andhoped to restore Turkish influence inCentral Asia. By late 1995, however, boththat hope and Alptekin were dead, andChina was becoming an influential, self-confident economic power. At this timeAnkara chose to comply with Beijingsdemands, which were backed by increasedtrade, growing military collaboration, andChinas veiled threats of support forKurdish nationalism. Consequently, TurkishUyghurs suffered a serious blow, and someof their organizations had to relocateabroad, outside Beijings reach. Nonethe-less, Uyghur activism continues in Turkeyand has become even more pronouncedworldwide. Possibly less concerned aboutthe Uyghur threat than it suggests,Beijing may simply be using the Uyghursto intimidate and manipulate Turkey andother governments, primarily those inCentral Asia.

    About the AuthorYitzhak Shichor is a professor in the Department of Asian Studies and theSchool of Political Sciences at the University of Haifa. He can be contactedat [email protected]

    Recent Series Publications:

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    53Policy Studies


    acy: The U

    yghur Hitch in Sino-Turkish R

    elationsYitzhak Shichor

    ISBN 978-1-932728-81-1

  • About the East-West CenterThe East-West Center is an education and research organization estab-lished by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and under-standing among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and theUnited States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous, andjust Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperativeresearch, education, and dialogue on critical issues of common concernto the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Centercomes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided byprivate agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations, and the gov-ernments of the region.

    Policy Studies seriesA publication of the East-West Center

    Series Editors: Dr. Edward Aspinall and Dr. Dieter ErnstFounding Series Editor: Dr. Muthiah AlagappaPublications Coordinator: Jeremy Sutherland

    DescriptionPolicy Studies provides policy-relevant scholarly analysis of key contemporarydomestic and international issues affecting Asia. The editors invite contributionson Asias economics, politics, security, and international relations.

    Notes to ContributorsSubmissions may take the form of a proposal or complete manuscript. For moreinformation on the Policy Studies series, please contact the Series Editors.

    Editors, Policy StudiesEast-West Center

    1601 East-West Rd.Honolulu, HI 96848Tel: 808-944-7111

    E-mail: [email protected]

  • Ethno-Diplomacy: The Uyghur Hitch in Sino-Turkish Relations

  • Policy Studies 53___________

    Ethno-Diplomacy:The Uyghur Hitch in Sino-Turkish Relations


    Yitzhak Shichor

  • Copyright 2009 by the East-West Center

    Ethno-Diplomacy: The Uyghur Hitch in Sino-Turkish Relationsby Yitzhak Shichor

    ISBN: 978-1-932728-81-1 (online version)ISSN: 1547-1330 (online version)

    East-West Center 1601 East-West Rd.Honolulu, HI 96848Tel: 808-944-7111E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.eastwestcenter.orgOnline at:

    The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily thoseof the Center.

    Hardcopies of publications in the series are available

    In Asia, hardcopies of all titles, and electronic copies of Southeast Asiatitles, co-published in Singapore, are available through:

    Institute of Southeast Asian Studies30 Heng Mui Keng TerracePasir Panjang Road, Singapore 119614E-mail: [email protected]:

  • Dedicated to Professor Jacob M. LandauScholar, gentleman, and a long-standing source of inspiration

  • ContentsList of Acronyms vii

    Executive Summary ix

    Introduction 1

    Sino-Turkish Relations: The Legacy 5

    Pre-Republic China 5

    Republican China 7

    The Peoples Republic of China 9

    Uyghur Nationalism in Turkey 12

    Uyghur Presence in Turkey 13

    Uyghur Activism in Turkey 17

    Uyghurs in Sino-Turkish Relations 20

    Chinas Displeasure, Turkeys Defiance 24

    Chinas Pressure, Turkeys Compliance 28

    Bait in Beijings Trap 36

    Conclusion: The Limits of Chinas Ethno-Diplomacy 45

    Endnotes 55

    Bibliography 67

  • List of AcronymsAKP Adalet ve Kalknma Partisi (Justice and

    Development Party)

    CCP Chinese Communist Party

    CENTO Central Treaty Organization

    ETF Eastern Turkestan Foundation

    ETIB Eastern Turkestan Information Bulletin

    ETNC Eastern Turkestan National Center [Congress]

    ETIR Eastern Turkestan Islamic Republic

    EU European Union

    FBIS Foreign Broadcast Information Service

    FNSS FMC [BAE]-Nurol Defense Systems Inc.

    GMD Guomindang

    MHP Milliyeti Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Action Party)

    MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket System

    NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    NGO nongovernmental organization

  • NPC National Peoples Congress

    PLA Peoples Liberation Army

    PRC Peoples Republic of China

    SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organization

    TKP(ML) Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist)

    UN United Nations

    UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

    U.S. United States

  • Executive SummaryBeginning in 1949, China considered, and dealt with, so-calledUyghur separatism and the quest for Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang)independence as a domestic problem. Since the early 1990s, however,Beijing has begun to recognize the international aspects of this problemand to deal with its external manifestations. This new policy has affect-ed Chinas relations with Turkey, which has ideologically inspiredUyghur nationalism, offered sanctuary to Uyghur refugees, and provid-ed moral and material support to Eastern Turkestan movements, organ-izations, and activities.

    The origins of this support go back to the late nineteenth centu-ry, when the Chinese and the Ottoman empirespreviously isolat-edbriefly competed (in a virtual rather than a real way) for sover-eignty and control over southwestern Xinjiang. By that time bothempires had already declined, and their final collapse in 1911 and 1922further reduced the potential for friction. Although Turkey demon-strated sympathy and encouragement from afar when Uyghur nation-alism began to emerge in the 1930s, Istanbul remained a bystander andcould not, and would not, provide any real support. By the late 1940sBeijing and Ankara had grown further apart, with China becomingpart of the Soviet bloc while Turkey joined the Western alliance.Shortly afterward the two clashed in the Korean War, which woulddamage their relationship for many years, and perhaps to this day.

    Even before, and especially since, the early 1950s, Turkey has host-ed Uyghur leaders and refugees from the Peoples Republic of China,who have set up associations and organizations aimed at the preserva-

  • tion of their culture while at the same time never losing sight of theirgoal of Eastern Turkestan independence. By using Turkey, whichfavored these activities, as their headquarters, Uyghur leaders sought topromote the Eastern Turkestan cause, yet they have had little success.The absence of Sino-Turkish diplomatic relations, Chinas internation-al isolation, the Western disregard of human rights, and the technolog-ical limits of the media have all thwarted these efforts. This situationmight have changed in 1971, when Sino-Turkish diplomatic relationswere at long last established, but it did not. For about twenty years,until the early to mid-1990s, these relations remained marginal forboth. China still considered its Uyghur problem a domestic affair, andEastern Turkestan activities in Turkey continued. Both of th