Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Beijing to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart and other senior officials amid increased tensions between the two countries over China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.
Erdogan, who is due to meet Xi Jinping later on Wednesday, has repeatedly accused China of systematic oppression against the Uighurs, who share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with Turks.
The president has previously accused Beijing of “genocide” in the region, and the gap between Chinese and Turkish views of the Uighurs are likely to complicate the upcoming discussions on improving relations.
The two sides engaged in a row this year over Uighurs who fled China to seek refuge in Thailand, with Turkey offering them shelter against Beijing’s wishes.
Bangkok said this month that it had deported about 100 Uighurs back to China, after sending more than 170 Uighur women and children to Turkey in late June.
China’s state-run China Daily said in a Wednesday editorial that the “Uighur issue … if left unattended, may poison ties and derail cooperation”.
The newspaper suggested that Beijing would pressure Erdogan to stop Turkish officials issuing Uighurs who “illicitly left China” with travel documents.
As tensions over the refugees mounted this month, activists stormed the Thai consulate in Istanbul and burned the Chinese flag outside Beijing’s consulate in the city. China “strongly condemned” the acts.
Turkey entered discussions in 2013 with a Chinese state-run company over an anti-missile system contract worth $3.4bn, raising eyebrows among other NATO members.
A final deal has been elusive, with Erdogan noting “impediments” have emerged after an initial Chinese proposal, but he said the issue will be on the agenda in Beijing.
“Any offer that will enrich this appropriate proposal will be welcomed by us,” he told China’s official news agency Xinhua in an interview published on Tuesday.
“I believe this visit will give more momentum to bilateral relations.”
Boosting Turkish exports to China is also likely to be high on Erdogan’s agenda, with Ankara running a large trade deficit with the world’s second-largest economy, according to official Chinese statistics.