Turkey bombs Kurds…and Chinese?

It seems Turkey is not only bombing Kurds in Iraq, but also the Chinese.

Thai officials investigating the 17 August bombing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people and injured 120 others have found a link to Turkey. The shrine is a popular site for Chinese tourists.

The main suspect is now identified as Emrah Davutoglu and of the eight people for whom arrest warrants have been issued, at least two others are now believed to be Turkish. In one raided apartment Thai authorities seized more than 200 passports and about 100 of them were Turkish passports with fake names.

Thai police also said another suspect has a Chinese passport indicating he is a Uyghur named Yusufu Mieraili from Xinjiang.  If confirmed, this would strengthen the case made by IHS Jane’s security analyst Anthony Davis that the bombing was connected to Uyghurs’ political grievances and likely sponsored by the Turkish terrorist group Grey Wolves.

In July, the Grey Wolves were credited with anti-Chinese protests, attacks on Korean tourists in Istanbul, ransacking the Thai embassy as well as Chinese restaurants throughout Turkey, over Thailand’s repatriation of 100 Uyghurs to China. Davis said the group had “latched on to in a big way” Uyghur Muslims and that “they are violent and operate below the radar.”

More formally known as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), during the 1970s Grey Wolves killed Kurds, left-wing intellectuals, students and Christians, including an assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981. In recent years the group has adopted a more Islamic stance.

However, more important to the Chinese, this incident highlights how Turkey’s policy increasingly threatens China’s interests abroad as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity of Xinjiang.

Turkish passports-to-Uyghurs scheme

In the March 2014 Kunming terrorist attack that China dubs its “9-11”, when the terrorists were caught in Indonesia they were carrying Turkish passports.  The Uyghur terrorist group Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) that claimed responsibility for the 2013 Tiananmen Square attack praised the Kunming attack and promised more violence. TIP is part of the Turkey-backed anti-Assad Army of Conquest in Syria.

For the past years, Beijing has been trying to resolve a passport scheme  involving Turkey supplying passports to Chinese Uyghurs and encouraging their illegal immigration to Turkey,  and in July Tong Bishan from China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) revealed that Uyghurs were being sold as “cannon fodder” to extremists groups in Syria and Iraq.

As Asia Times’s Peter Lee reported, China’s foreign ministry as well as government mouthpiece Global Times, already raised the issue in early 2015.

“First the PRC employed the polite fiction that some profit-minded freelancers were selling Turkish passports to Uyghurs; then it was ‘unnamed consulates and embassies’ were dishing out documents; now, unambiguously, the PRC is pointing the finger at the Turkish government.”

MPS’s Tong revealed that Turkish embassies in Southeast Asia would provide Uyghurs proof of identities as Turkish nationals and then they’ll be allowed into Turkey. Unfortunately, upon entering Turkey Uyghurs have little chance of finding legal work and end up with extremist groups such as ETIM and TIP, which Beijing accuses of waging an insurrection in Xinjiang to establish an independent East Turkestan.

Tong further added that ETIM and other terrorists groups easily control them. “There is competition for them. Some are sent to Iraq, some to Syria…the terrorist groups will pay, at least $2,000 a person. It’s their way of recruiting soldiers.”

Once the Uyghurs get jihadi training in Iraq and Syria, the ultimate goal is to take jihad back to Xinjiang and rest of China. As such, Turkey-backed Uyghur insurgency and secession is an existential threat to Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”—given Xinjiang is the bridgehead and foundation of China’s entire grand strategy of establishing a Silk Road Economic Belt across Eurasia.

Turkey drives Kurds and Chinese closer?

Now that Erdogan has extracted NATO support to legitimize his war against the PKK/Kurds and increased US dependency on him via use of Incirlik air base, Ankara appears emboldened to increase its aggression against other actors whether attacking Chinese via Uyghurs or Turkish nationalists, imprisoning British Vice journalists via trumped up terrorism charges, and ramping up its bombing campaign in Iraq that has provoked a chorus of outrage from the Arab League for violating Iraqi sovereignty and KRG’s Barzani for killing Kurdish civilians.

Another negative consequence of Erdogan soliciting “US security guarantee” via the airbase and “NATO approval/legitimacy” is the “emboldenment” effect to ramp up violations of additional countries’ sovereignty, such as EU member Cyprus’s EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean, EU member Greece’s airspace, sponsoring Muslim Brotherhood against Sisi in Egypt, Hamas against Israel, in addition to incitement of insurrection in China’s Xinjiang.

The Chinese are already aware of Erdogan’s support for Xinjiang secession. He had named a section of the Blue Mosque park after East Turkestan Independence movement leader Isa Yusuf Alptekin and praised East Turkistani Sehitlernin (martyrs) in their struggle for independence.

Now that the Chinese and Kurds are both targets of ramped up Turkish attacks, will this drive them closer together? Chinese had threatened Turkey that if they touch Uyghurs, China will support PKK.  The risk of Sino-Turkey misperception, miscalculation, and killing of civilians increases as Turkey continues its bombing campaign, given there are already Chinese groups on the ground aiding Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan.

Moreover, while some refugee camps in Dohuk are officially run by the HDP municipality, PKK members are also in the area and are responsible for security, as well as the provision of basic utilities like water, local residents say.

Eugene Bach, former US special ops who now works with the Chinese Christian group called Back to Jerusalem, recently traveled along the border areas between Erbil and Zakho (in Dohuk governorate) “to visit our new yazidi school and our aquaponics farming units on this trip that the Chinese are running.”

He noted, “the road construction is picking up, cutting the time needed to travel. The roads in that area are better than ever before, so my hope is that no bombing campaigns from Turkey hit that area any time soon and destroy all the good work that they have done.”

As China is carefully watching Turkey while the Bangkok bombing investigation is unfolding, Erdogan should sincerely hope that their bombing campaigns in Kurdistan do not also end up killing Chinese civilians.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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