China warns its citizens in Turkey to 'be more vigilant' amid tensions over Uighur minority

Ethnic Uighur women leave a centre where political education lessons are held in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, on Sept 6, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing has warned its citizens in Turkey to "be more vigilant", as bilateral tensions rise after strong Turkish criticism of China's treatment of its minority Uighur community.

Nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities are being held in extrajudicial detention in camps in Xinjiang, according to a United Nations panel of experts, where most of China's more than 10 million Uighurs live.

Beijing has admitted to placing people in "vocational education centres" to prevent radical Islamism. Critics however allege Uighurs in the camps are being brainwashed in a massive campaign to enforce conformity with Chinese society and abandon Islam.

The north-western Xinjiang region - home to about 10 million Uighurs - has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organised "terrorist" movement seeking the region's independence.

Turkey, which has its own significant Uighur population, said last Saturday (Feb 9) China's treatment of the Uighurs was "a great embarrassment for humanity".

It also called on the international community and the UN "to take effective steps to end the human tragedy in Xinjiang region".

China's embassy to Turkey wrote on its website: "We call once more on Chinese citizens in Turkey and Chinese tourists going to Turkey to be more vigilant and pay attention to their personal security as well as the security of their belongings."

The warning was posted on Sunday, the day after the declarations by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Violent anti-China protests against the county's treatment of the Uighurs have previously broken out in Turkey. In 2015, militant Turkish nationalists burned a Chinese flag in front of China's embassy in Ankara.

A popular Chinese restaurant in Istanbul also had its windows smashed and a group of South Korean tourists who were visiting the city was attacked because they were mistaken for Chinese.

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