The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul is crowded with tourists. Nearly 140,000 Chinese citizens visited Turkey between January and June (XINHUA)
For Chinese citizens, Turkey is a popular destination. According to statistics from Go Turkey, the official tourism portal of Turkey, Chinese tourists visiting Turkey in the first quarter of the year has increased by 43.7 percent from 2014. Meanwhile, the total number of Chinese visitors in Turkey in the first six months this year has reached nearly 140,000.
Partial credit for the rush of Chinese tourists to Turkey can be attributed to media coverage--a couple of Chinese television entertainment shows have been filmed in Turkey and received high audience ratings from viewers back home who were enamored with the famous historical sites and natural landscape of Turkey.
Further, since this February, the Turkish Government has issued a new e-visa policy for Chinese citizens, simplifying the procedure for Chinese applicants to obtain a visa online and making travel to the country much easier.
"A tourist only needs one or two days to obtain a visa," Wang Weiguo, market manager of Beijing-based Traveling Five Continents Travel Agency, told The Beijing News newspaper.
"The fast and simple visa procedure makes Turkey increasingly appealing to Chinese tourists," Wang said.
However, the positive effects of the visa policy may well have been counteracted by recent events in Turkey.
Early in July, Turkish protestors carried out anti-China demonstrations in Istanbul and then harassed Chinese tourists and facilities. Even some South Koreans were attacked by protestors who mistook them for Chinese or Thais.
The protest and riots that followed were triggered by rumors, namely that the Chinese Government had issued a ban on Muslims fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, early July news that Thailand police had deported around 100 Uygurs illegally back to China was used to provoke hatred against China among the Turkish.
Chinese tourism to Turkey has not been suspended so far. However, the Chinese Embassy to Turkey and most Chinese travel agencies have released warnings to Chinese tourists in Turkey or adjusted existing tour routes to shy away from places where riots were taking place.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed concerns about the riots.
"We are highly concerned about the recent violence against Chinese citizens in Turkey and have asked the Turkish side to take strong measures to protect the security, legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and institutions in Turkey," Hua said at a press conference in Beijing on July 6.
The rumors about Chinese Muslims and Uygur people have proved to be erroneous. On July 18, Muslims across China celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
In Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, home to more than 13 million Chinese Muslims, both religious and non-religious people live in peace and harmony during Ramadan. Muslims from Uygurs, Hui and other ethnic groups attended religious ceremonies at some 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang as usual. Local senior officials also shared iftar, during which Muslims collectively break their fast, with the Muslim community for the celebration of Eid al-Fitr in the evening.
Jehan Aiduhumsi, a 38-year-old Turkish businessman in Xinjiang, told Xinhua News Agency that Turkish media's news reports stating that the government was forbidding Muslim religious activities during Ramadan in Xinjiang were totally false.
Jehan said he has been in China for 10 years. He married a Uygur woman, and they now have a family in Urumqi, capital city of Xinjiang.
"I have never seen or heard local government bans on Muslims fasting during Ramadan or praying in mosques. My wife has been fasting during the holy month. But I am busy with business so I have not," Jehan said. "I think everyone is free to choose to fast or not during Ramadan for personal reasons."
Urkan Ozturk, a Turkish exporter and deputy director of Turkish Commerce Chamber in Xinjiang, said, "Apparently, those who fabricated the rumors want to damage the relationship between China and Turkey."
"I am concerned that the recent violence in Istanbul will affect the friendship of the two countries as well as our business in Xinjiang," Ozturk said.
He suggested that those who are deceived by rumors should come to China and look for themselves.
According to China's Ministry of Public Security, a group of 350 Uygur illegal migrants were detained by Thai police. These people planned to join terrorist groups by stealing into Turkey, Syria or Iraq. Around 100 of them have been sent back to China.
Before this case, Chinese police have worked together with their colleagues in Viet Nam, Malaysia and some other Southeast Asian countries in intercepting extremists who intended to join terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Jiang Mingxin, a Turkish studies researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Beijing Review that the riots against China in Istanbul can be attributed to several factors.
Some anti-China organizations, including that of the Xinjiang separatists, are active in Turkey. They incited protests against China for political purposes.
Many Turkish people are not really aware of China. TV, newspaper and Internet media are the major channels to get news about the country. Therefore, false news would have a negative influence on their impression of China, Jiang said.
However, the riots certainly don't represent the Turkish attitude toward China, Jiang added.
In fact, Anadolu Agency (AA), the official press agency of Turkey, has debunked the claims in its news reported in Xinjiang. In a news report, AA reporters said "they see little sign of a fasting ban in Xinjiang."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced violent protests and riots against China and other foreign targets.
President Erdogan has urged the Turkish people not to be easily provoked by false media reports, AA reported recently.
Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu has also condemned the recent attacks.
"Ambassadors, diplomatic representatives and tourists are our beloved guests," he told media representatives in Istanbul on July 10.
The Turkish Government has always attached importance to developing relations with China, Jiang said.
In recent years, China and Turkey have only grown together in regards to cooperation. Historically, Turkey was an important stop on the old Silk Road route. Since China proposed the initiative for building the Silk Road Economic Belt, Turkey has shown great interest in participating. In June, Turkey became a founding member of the China-proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
President Erdogan's tour of China begins on July 28. Building close China-Turkey relations is expected to be the overarching theme for Erdogan's tour through China.
China is Turkey's third largest trading partner. Last year, bilateral trade between China and Turkey increased to $27.8 billion from $1 billion in 1999. Economic cooperation between both sides is faring well. In Turkey, China Railway Construction Corporation was contracted to build a high-speed rail line that will stretch nearly 500 km from Ankara to Istanbul, which is also the first high-speed railway project abroad for Chinese enterprises.
Turkey ranks 17th place in regards to the world economy, with its GDP standing at $838.973 billion, according to the World Economic Outlook released by International Monetary Fund last year.
In the last two years, however, Turkey has experienced a slump in economic growth. Currency devaluation and a rise in unemployment are also concerns for the current government, Jiang said.
Under such circumstances, seeking more investment from China will help overcome current economic problems in Turkey, Jiang added.
Copyedited by Eric Daly
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