China and Turkey are currently experiencing a rapidly accelerating period of enhanced bilateral ties across a variety of fields. This is why the Turkish government’s recent expression of concern regarding the much discussed state of society in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region should be seen as an opportunity to enhance China-Turkey relations on the basis of win-win understandings in areas of mutual interest.
Xinjiang’s modern history has been one of manifold regional and geopolitical conflict that only since the victory of The People’s Republic of China, has been liberated of the ghosts of the past. Sadly, due to foreign interference in Xinjiang over the last 70 years, Xinjiang’s road to peace through prosperity has not always been an easy one.
Today however, Xinjiang’s embrace of modernity is still often being mistaken for a rejection of local cultural characteristics. In reality, just as Turkey under President Erdoğan and the Naya Pakistan of Imran Khan’s PTI are experiencing political and cultural renewal by combining traditions of Islam with contemporary economic aspirations, so too are the people of Xinjiang experiencing something similar, in spite of the fact that the nature of Xinjiang’s renewal has been widely misunderstood.
But whenever there is a misunderstanding, interaction, economic connectivity and human-to-human contact are the keys to achieving geopolitical harmony among friendly nations. Due to the presence of an ethnically Turkic population in Xinjiang, The Republic of Turkey has a clear emotional attachment to Xinjiang. Likewise, an experienced statesman like President Erdoğan is aware of how western nations harbouring imperial ambitions against the great powers of the Afro-Eurasian space have continually exploited the beliefs of peace loving Muslims in order to foment geopolitical strife which benefits no one but western regimes that seek to pillage the resources of Asia for themselves.
Because of this, there is a small schism at play between the feelings of patriotic Turks towards their own country and the feelings they naturally have about the condition of Turkic Muslims in China. The way to turn this emotional schism into a harmonious condition is by encouraging China-Turkey relations to focus on Xinjiang as a starting point for enhanced Belt and Road connectivity and the cross-cultural experiences that ought to accompany enhanced trading relations.
This is why Pakistan likewise has a crucial role to play in Xinjiang’s continued progress within the context of China’s holistic drive for further Opening Up and Reform. Pakistan is not only China’s neighbour and all-weather friend, but is a country in which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) helps to link China’s industrial Pacific urban zones with the wider Afro-Eurasian space on either side of the Indian Ocean. As Turkey is a key component in Belt and Road, CPEC can likewise been seen as the central artery in a wider Pacific to Mediterranean trading area in which Turkey and China bookend new silk roads whose geographical centre-point is CPEC.
As Pakistani and Turkish official have recently expressed a joint commitment to Turkey’s deep integration into Belt and Road and as the majority of Turks and the majority of Pakistanis share not only a faith but a fraternal cultural bond, modern Xinjiang could serve as a crucial host region for a new Belt and Road summit in which Chinese President Xi, Turkish President Erdoğan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan could meet to discuss further opportunities for win-win cooperation, all against the physical and cultural backdrop of modern Xinjiang.
Such a summit would not only have vast economic implications, but could help to open global eyes about how Islamic and Chinese characteristics exist in a harmonious fashion in Xinjiang, just as they have throughout other parts of China for many centuries.
Such a summit could be the start of ever more cross-cultural lines of communication that could help to enlighten those in multiple nations about how China’s economic model seeks to elevate the condition of the people throughout the country, including in Xinjiang.
The best way to resolve a perceived crisis that has largely been caused by western innuendo is by strengthening pan-Asian cooperation within the context of south-south connectivity, economic openness and intellectual, cultural and human-to-human corridors of understanding. A China, Pakistan, Turkey summit in Xinjiang could be a very helpful way to instigate such a process.