China, Pakistan differ on Turkey’s military offensive

Last Updated 15 October 2019, 15:31 IST

In a rare foreign policy disagreement, "iron brothers" China and Pakistan have ended up on the opposite sides of Turkey's military action in northern Syria as Beijing asked Ankara to stop its offensive against Kurdish forces while Islamabad backed the assault.

Turkey launched an assault last week against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as a "terrorist" offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in its own territory.

The Turkish government wants to create a "safe zone" in the area, where it can resettle up to two million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Dozens of civilians have been killed in the operation so far and at least 160,000 have fled the area, according to the United Nations.

China on Tuesday called on Turkey to stop its military action, saying it could lead to escape of IS militants exacerbating international counter-terrorism efforts.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang during a media briefing here said Turkey should seek political and diplomatic settlement of the issues under the framework of UN charter and international law.

"Syria’s sovereignty and independence, unity and territorial integrity should be respected and upheld. We urge Turkey to stop the military action comeback to the right track of political settlement," he said replying to a question.

“At the same time the counter-terrorism situation in Syria remains grave and the relevant military action could lead to the terrorists fleeing the region and the Islamic State (IS) might take the opportunity to rally up," he said.

China urged the Turkish side to shoulder its responsibility and work with the international community to jointly fight terrorism.

China is concerned that the Turkish action could lead to the escape of a large number of IS militants as many of them stated to be Uighurs from the restive Chinese province of Xinjiang where Beijing is conducting a massive crackdown on the members of the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

China apprehends that the return of diehard Uighur fighters of the IS could reignite violence in the volatile Xinjiang province which remained largely peaceful in the last few years following heavy crackdown.

Uighurs are Turkik speaking Muslims who had ethnic links with Turkey.

China in recent months faced strong criticism from the UN, US and number of other countries for keeping thousands of Uighurs in what it calls education camps in as part of its efforts to crackdown on Uighur militants.

Pakistan has backed Turkey in its offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to visit Islamabad later this month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, called Erdogan on Friday to “convey Pakistan's support and solidarity,” his office said.

Prime Minister Khan, who visited Beijing last week and held talks with President Xi Jinping, called Pakistan and China "closest friends, staunch partners, and iron brothers."

President Xi had assured Prime Minister Khan that the friendship between China and Pakistan is "unbreakable and rock-solid" despite changes in the international and regional situation.

Significantly, China’s criticism of Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) puts Beijing and New Delhi on the same page especially on the counter-terrorism issue.

India last week has said it was "deeply concerned" over the "unilateral military offensive" by Turkey in northeastern Syria and asserted that the action can undermine stability in the region as well as the fight against terrorism.

(Published 15 October 2019, 15:31 IST)

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