On the ancient Silk Road, Chinese and Islamic traders exchanged goods, ideas and cultures in a manner that was mutually beneficial for both sides. Geography dictates that China and the great states of the Ummah (the Islamic world) are natural trading partners. From Indonesia to Pakistan and from the Persian Gulf to Turkey, the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) is making an ancient truth into a contemporary reality.
Of course, the idea of win-win cooperation between China and the Ummah frightens the liberal imperialist sect of certain western nations and as such, a poisonous rumour has been spread by such international villains which implies that China’s Muslim minority in the the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are facing discrimination. In reality, multiple Muslim foreigners who have observed Xinjiang have commented on its continued economic development and the harmonious way in which Islamic culture and Han culture exist side-by-side.
For reasons of shared ethnography, many patriotic Turks were naturally worried by stories spread by liberal westerners about Xinjiang that they believed to be true. Such stories included those about prominent Xinjiang residents who had been executed only for such men to then reappear on video one week later.
As Turkey is once again the most influential nation in the Ummah, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to China represents an historic moment for Pacific-to-Mediterranean BRI connectivity whilst also representing a moment of important cultural exchange and understanding. According to Zhu Weilie, a Middle East expert at Shanghai International Studies University:
“Erdoğan delivered a very positive signal on the issue about Xinjiang in his statement, which shows that China’s influence on regional and international affairs is rising. It also shows that Turkey’s foreign policy is in the process of transformation and is now trying to strike a balance between the East and the West”.
Speaking beside President Xi, Erdoğan stated:
“This visit to China is happening at a time of increased testing of global peace and stability. The strengthening of Turkey-China relations will also provide large and diverse contributions to regional and global stability”.
Reuters reports that the Turkish President also said:
“It is a fact that the peoples of China’s Xinjiang region live happily in China’s development and prosperity. Turkey does not permit any person to incite disharmony in the Turkey-China relationship. Turkey firmly opposes extremism and is willing to increase mutual political trust with China and strengthen security cooperation”.
The highly positive atmosphere surrounding the Turkish leader’s visit to China makes it clear that the forces trying to create broad tensions between the Ummah and China as well as those forces which attempted to sow hatred between Chinese and Turks have failed. As a respected leader throughout multiple Islamic societies, Erdoğan’s visit to China represents the proverbial “stamp of approval” that many Muslims were looking for in an era when liberal authored disinformation about China is abounding.
This means that some of the most diverse countries in the Islamic world including Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all formally agree that the situation in Xinjiang is one of positive economic development and cultural harmony. By contrast, those who continue to feed the ugly rumours about China are found mostly in the increasingly Islamophobic west. This itself demonstrates that those screaming anti-Chinese slogans most loudly do so not on behalf of Muslims but on behalf of Sinophobic racists the world over.
It is therefore welcome news that accelerated China-Turkey relations can achieve win-win benefits not only for the people of China and Turkey but for the wider world that can benefit from BRI connectivity that incorporates not only material enrichment but cultural understand and people-to-people exchange.