Turkey started mass vaccination against COVID-19 with China's 'Sinovac' vaccine but its orders for the vaccine suffered many delays, which led to the Turkish opposition questioning whether Ankara was being punished for dragging its feet in ratifying an extradition treaty it had signed with Beijing that could affect its Uyghur diaspora, Nikkei Asia reported.
Early this month, Ankara announced it has granted emergency use authorisation to Sinovac Biotech's vaccine. Mass inoculations began last Thursday starting with the elderly and health care workers.
The delay of the first batch in December prompted a phone call between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. By the end of the month, a few days before the first batch of vaccines was due to be sent to Turkey, Beijing unexpectedly announced it had ratified the extradition treaty with Turkey.
Turkey signed the extradition treaty with China in 2017 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Initiative Forum. China had been asking Turkey to cooperate on the Uyghur issue, and it is largely believed that Turkey signed the treaty to solicit investment from China. The treaty was sent to parliament in 2019 and is awaiting ratification.
The move last month prompted members of the opposition parties in Turkey to question if China was withholding the vaccines to pressure Turkey into also ratifying the treaty.
Yildirim Kaya of the opposition the Republican People's Party questioned the government, saying, "Are the allegations that China is postponing vaccine shipments to pressure Turkey into ratifying the extradition treaty true?" Opposition politicians have vowed to push back on ratification when parliament reconvenes on January 26.
China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination.
Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party's brutal crackdown on the ethnic community, according to a report.
There are at least 50,000 Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim people, living in Turkey. The ratification of the treaty would be a huge cause of concern for those Uyghurs who have not yet received Turkish citizenship as they face the possibility of being sent back to China, where they are persecuted.
At a news conference at the end of December, Cavusoglu said ratification of the treaty would only be "routine" and strongly denied claims Uyghurs would be deported to China.
"China had such demands but we have not taken such steps," he said adding that "Vaccines and East Turkestan or Uighur Turks have no relation at all."
Last month, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed shock over the reports that China has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that could target Muslim minority Uyghurs fleeing persecution from Xinjiang province.
"USCIRF is alarmed by reports that China has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that could target Uyghurs fleeing persecution, and calls on the Turkish Parliament to reject ratification and make every effort to protect Uyghurs and others at risk," USCIRF had tweeted.