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Uighur issue takes centre stage as Xi holds talks with Erdogan


Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan that the two should deepen counter-terrorism cooperation, amid Chinese concern about ethnic Uighurs from its Xinjiang region fighting with militants in the Middle East.

Meeting on the sidelines of a summit about China’s new Silk Road plan, Xi told Erdogan that developing strategic cooperation was in the interests of both countries, China’s foreign ministry said late on Saturday.

“In order to promote even greater development of relations, China and Turkey must respect and give consideration to each other’s core concerns, and deepen security and counter-terrorism cooperation,” the ministry cited Xi as saying without elaborating.

Uighurs are a largely Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority from China’s western Xinjiang region.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, keen to escape unrest in Xinjiang, have travelled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey, where many see themselves as sharing religious and cultural ties.

Beijing says some Uighurs then end up fighting with militants in Iraq and Syria.

Syria’s ambassador to China said last week that up to 5,000 Uighurs are fighting in various militant groups in Syria.

Ankara vowed last year to keep its doors open to Uighur migrants fleeing what rights activists have called religious persecution in China. Beijing denies accusations that it restricts Uighurs’ religious freedoms.

Separately, China and the Philippines will start bilateral consultations on the disputed South China Sea this week, the Philippine ambassador to Beijing said, as Manila looks to ease tensions with Asia’s top economic power.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is visiting Beijing this weekend to attend a summit on China’s new Silk Road plan, has opted to court China for its business and investment and avoid rows over sovereignty that dogged his predecessors.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Santa Romana told reporters late on Saturday that the consultations between the two countries would take place in a Chinese city, but declined to name it.

China has not publicly announced any such talks. Duterte has been accused by critics of taking a defeatist position on China and on defending Philippine sovereignty. He considers his approach is pragmatic and says challenging China risks triggering a war.