Turkey-China Military Exercises: What Do They Mean for the Uyghurs? November 14, 2010 - 12:19pm, by Joshua Kucera The Bug Pit China Turkey Turkey has long been an advocate of the beleaguered Uyghur minority in China, and when ethnic violence broke out between Uyghurs and Han Chinese last year in Xinjiang, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that China's treatment of Uyghurs amounted to a "genocide." So what to make now of the news that Turkey is engaging in a second round of military exercises with China -- which a Chinese commentator says is probably designed with fighting Uyghurs in mind? I asked Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American activist and lawyer in Washington, D.C., for his thoughts. Turkel said that Turkey has built a lot of goodwill over the years among Uyghurs, which accounts for the fact that Uyghur groups haven't said much publicly about the exercises. Privately, though, he said they are "outraged." â€œWhen you look at Turkish-Chinese relations, Uyghurs have always been a thorny issue, but never as much as it's been since last summer, and the prime minister's provocative statements. Then, China started taking Turkey very seriously,â€ he said. Chinese relations with Turkey were strong enough that Beijing's reaction to Erdogan's comments was relatively muted, Turkel said. While Chinese media criticized the statement, there was no official condemnation. â€œI can't even imagine what would have happened if Obama had made those comments,â€ he said. Nevertheless, Erdogan with that statement "elevated the Uyghur issue in Turkish-Chinese relations.â€ Turkel also noted that when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu visited China recently, his first stop was the majority-Uyghur city of Kashgar, which was "very symbolic." The plight of China's Uyghurs is also a popular issue with the Turkish public. So China, wanting to improve relations with Turkey without the Uyghur issue becoming an irritant, appears to have decided to circumvent the Turkish political structure and build relations more directly with Turkey's military: â€œChina's using the military relationship with the Turkish army to warm up these relations.â€ The exercises, Turkel said, â€œhave created a huge puzzle among the Uyghurs. They've started questioning the intent of the Turkish government.â€ The military relationship â€œhas not been seen at all in the past, and it's a very concerning development.â€ Uyghur groups have been silent thus far because â€œthey are not prepared to make a public statement because of the political-cultural support that the Turkish government has shown in the past.â€ But privately, he said, â€œthey are outraged.â€ Others, however, say that the exercises might increase Turkey's leverage with China to improve the Uyghurs' situation. That was the take of an analysis published in Today's Zaman (before this most recent round of exercises): Turkey has understood that establishing good relations with the Chinese leadership is a must to spur the government to soften its approach toward the ethnic Turkic minority. â€œImproving relations between the two countries will also bring relief to our Uighur brothers,â€ DavutoÄŸlu assured the Uighur community while speaking in Kashgar on Oct. 28 during his visit to China. â€œIt is a must for China and Turkey to continue economic, political and military cooperation in a strategic dimension to realize the Uighursâ€™ democratic rights and freedoms,â€ Seyit TÃ¼mtÃ¼rk, president of the East Turkestan Culture and Solidarity Association, told Sundayâ€™s Zaman in an interview, adding that DavutoÄŸluâ€™s messages delivered during his visit to China are something his community attaches importance to. TÃ¼mtÃ¼rk also raised concerns on the content of agreements Interior Minister BeÅŸir Atalay signed with his Chinese counterparts, claiming that similar agreements with other countries had turned out to be a tool to crack down on the Uighur community. â€œWe hope the same will not happen this time,â€ TÃ¼mtÃ¼rk said.