Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a solution could be found to help Muslims interned in Chinese camps “taking into account the sensitivities” of both sides, in comments published on Thursday.
But Erdogan struck a softer tone after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday in Beijing.
“I believe we can find a solution to the issue taking into account the sensitivities of both sides,” Erdogan told Turkish journalists in Beijing before flying back to Turkey, according to the Hurriyet daily.
Beijing has led an increasingly repressive campaign in Xinjiang following a series of knife attacks and ethnic riots over the past 10 years.
China denies holding people against their will in what it describes as “vocational education centres” aimed at steering citizens away from “religious extremism”.
Turkey’s foreign ministry in February lambasted China’s treatment of Uighurs as “a great embarrassment for humanity”, and said those in the centres and prisons were “subjected to torture and political brainwashing”.
Chinese state media claimed Erdogan said ethnic minorities live happily in Xinjiang, but he made no such comments to Turkish reporters.
Turkey’s president warned against those who sought to “abuse” the Xinjiang issue to create tensions with China, a key investor and trading partner.
“This abuse is having a negative impact on Turkish-Chinese relations. It is necessary that we do not give opportunity to such abuse,” Erdogan said.
He added that Turkey could “send a delegation to East Turkestan”, the name given by activists to Xinjiang.
The president’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted on Wednesday that the invitation came from the Chinese side.
Erdogan told his Chinese counterpart that Turkey’s “sole wish was for Uighurs in China to live in peace and prosperity”, Altun wrote.