Turkey, China and the Uighurs: The Erdogan Factor

I wish I could claim “the Erdogan Factor” as my own invention, but Yigal Schleifer coined the term to explain what just put the kibosh on Turkey’s moderate response to the Xinjiang riots:

Speaking to reporters live on NTV television last Friday, Turkish PrimeMinister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who has a habit of doing away withdiplomatic niceties — said: “The incidents in China are, simply put,tantamount to genocide. There’s no point in interpreting thisotherwise.” So much for a moderate response.

I personally find Erdogan’s inability to bury his emotional reactions with “diplomatic niceties” compelling, and would almost argue for a diplomacy that takes those kinds of personal qualities into account. Needless to say, the Chinese don’t feel quite the same way, and the remarks could create serious tensions between Ankara and Beijing.

As for what drives the Erdogan Factor, this People’s Daily Online article, though obviously far from objective, points to one dynamic that I’d mentioned previously regarding Turkey more generally:

He Liangliang, a commentator at HongKong’s Phoenix Satellite TV, said in a news program that the TurkishPM’s accusations just reveal some Turks’ dreams to revive thePan-Turkism expansionism following the riots in Xinjiang.

[. . .]

Tian [Wenlin, a deputy professor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations] said Turkey has long been rackingits brains on how to expand its influence and never give up its effortto promote the supremacy of Turkey over its neighboring countries.

Butunder a current international order that sees sovereign states as basicunits, Turkey’s attempts will be doomed to failure, he said.

I’m not at all convinced regarding Tian’s prediction, but the assessment is spot on. The tension between units of sovereignty and units of identity, wherever the two are not the same, has been and will continue to be one of the principal drivers of conflict in the world. It’s just not always the case that national identity wins out.

Where U.S. and Chinese interests coincide, as much if not more so than in the economic sphere, is in both countries’ ironclad support of units of sovereignty over units of identity. That support is expressed in different and oftentimes conflictual ways. But the underlying agreement is something that’s often overlooked.