JEDDAH: China’s parliament ratified on Sunday an extradition agreement with Turkey to boost its alleged counterterrorism efforts abroad.
However, critics warn that the agreement will be used in tandem with economic and diplomatic pressure on foreign governments to deport Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority.
The deal was signed in 2017 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Beijing, but it has yet to be ratified by Turkey’s parliament.
Media have speculated that the extradition deal might be used by Beijing as a bargaining chip to boost its investments in Turkey and increase sales of its coronavirus vaccine in the country.
China has already delayed delivery of the first shipment of the Sinovac vaccine to Turkey for several days after a “customs-related problem” arose.
Beijing is also expected to adjust its trade and business ties with Turkey, which is in dire need of foreign capital, depending on the willingness of Ankara to ratify the extradition deal in the near future.
China is still among Turkey’s largest import partners.
The first train carrying goods from Turkey to China reached its destination on Saturday, having covered a distance of 8,693 km
However, despite the battered Turkish economy facing a depletion of foreign exchange reserves, an expert said Turkey “would not ratify the agreement anytime soon.”
Turkey’s domestic situation means the ruling party risks losing its nationalistic coalition partner over accusations that the agreement will harm Uighur minorities, the expert said.
“The government is likely to receive a huge blow from the opposition parties and its coalition partner if it proceeds with ratifying the bill in parliament amid the fragile political circumstances,” the expert told Arab News.
If the agreement is passed by the Turkish parliament, Uighur refugees in Turkey will face extradition to China if they are accused of committing terror or political crimes.
However, if Uighurs are granted Turkish citizenship, extradition requests could be denied by Turkish authorities.
Turkey’s government already faced heavy criticism earlier this year following reports that some exiled Uighurs were deported to China through third countries, mostly Tajikistan.
Critics have said that the long-term residency applications of some Uighurs were also rejected by Turkey, but Ankara has denied the claims.
A motion brought forward by Turkey’s main opposition party to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate China’s treatment of Uighurs was vetoed by the ruling party earlier this year.
Last month, Yusufujrang Aimaitijiang, an Uighur man who claimed to have been forced by Chinese authorities to provide information about fellow Uighurs in Turkey, was shot twice in Istanbul.
There are also mounting allegations about Uighur refugees being interrogated by Turkish police over terror-related claims.
About 50,000 Uighur refugees are believed to live in Turkey. Many have fled the crackdown in northwest China, and see Turkey as a safe haven.
Several districts on the European side of Istanbul have already become popular among Uighurs, and they are welcomed with solidarity by Turkish locals.
China has faced widespread criticism regarding its policies targeting Uighurs and its use of forced labor in mass internment camps.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently held a phone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
During the call on Dec. 14, Wang said that “both sides should stand against terrorism,” while Cavusoglu said Turkey “will not allow China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to be undermined,” according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.
Turkey was absent from a group of 22 countries that urged the UN Human Rights Council in July to investigate systemic human rights abuse in China.