Anti-China sentiment is suddenly sweeping over Turkey

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Protests. Burnt flags. Attacks on tourists and restaurants. Rampant racism on social media.

Anti-China sentiment has been reaching new heights in Turkey over the last few weeks, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to make an official state visit to China later this month.

It started at the beginning of July, when a Chinese restaurant in Istanbul was attacked by five men with sticks and stones.

"We do not want a Chinese restaurant here, get out of our town!" the men were heard saying, according to Al-Monitor.

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Anti-China sentiment is suddenly sweeping over Turkey
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in Diyarbakir, southeaster Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The biggest setback for AKP came with the rise of the main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, which for the first time easily cleared the threshold of ten percent for representation as a party in the parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Tazegul)
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in the streets the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir on June 7, 2015. The HDP easily surpassed the 10 percent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament. Under Turkey's proportional representation system, this means the Turkey's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) will need to form a coalition for the first time since it first came to power in 2002. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Young supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) hold Kurdish flags as they celebrate the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir on June 7, 2015. The HDP easily surpassed the 10 percent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament. Under Turkey's proportional representation system, this means the Turkey's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) will need to form a coalition for the first time since it first came to power in 2002. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party holds a baby as she waves Turkish flags in Istanbul,Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party Ahmet Davutoglu and his wife Sare wave to supporters from the balcony of his party in Ankara, Turkey, early Monday, June 8, 2015. In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party celebrate after the election results came out in Istanbul,Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party celebrate after the election results in Istanbul, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP) cheer in Istanbul, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, preliminary results from Turkey's parliamentary election on Sunday suggested that his party could lose its simple majority in Parliament. Demirtas called his party's ability to cross the threshold a "fabulous victory for peace and freedoms" that came despite the attack on his party and fierce campaigning by Erdogan. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party gather after the election results came out in Istanbul, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) hold a Kurdish flag and celebrate in the streets the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir on June 7, 2015. The HDP easily surpassed the 10 percent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament. Under Turkey's proportional representation system, this means the Turkey's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) will need to form a coalition for the first time since it first came to power in 2002. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in Diyarbakir, southeaster Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The biggest setback for AKP came with the rise of the main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, which for the first time easily cleared the threshold of ten percent for representation as a party in the parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Tazegul)
Selahattin Demirtas, left, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP) and Figen Yuksekdag, the other co-chair celebrate following a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, preliminary results from Turkey's parliamentary election on Sunday suggested that his party could lose its simple majority in Parliament. Demirtas called his party's ability to cross the threshold a "fabulous victory for peace and freedoms" that came despite the attack on his party and fierce campaigning by Erdogan. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party celebrate over the election results in Istanbul,Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in Diyarbakir, southeaster Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The biggest setback for AKP came with the rise of the main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, which for the first time easily cleared the threshold of ten percent for representation as a party in the parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Tazegul)
A supporter of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party celebratesafter the election results came out in Istanbul,Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan's hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's Prime Minister and leader of ruling Justice and Development Party Ahmet Davutoglu and his wife Sare Davutoglu wave to supporters from the balcony of his party in Ankara, Turkey, late Sunday, June 7, 2015. In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday. With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
A man helps a child to post his ballot, at a polling station in a primary school in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, HDP. If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)
Polling station officials count the ballots, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish ruling AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Selahattin Demirtas, center, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), talks to the media before casting his vote in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, HDP. If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo)
A child stands at a polling station in Carikli village outside Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turkey has wrapped up a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Polls closed Sunday afternoon, but preliminary results are not expected to start coming in for some hours. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)
Election officials count ballots at a polling station, in Istanbul , Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turkey has wrapped up a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Polls closed Sunday afternoon, but preliminary results are not expected to start coming in for some hours. (AP Photo)
Turkey’s opposition Nationalist Action Party leader Devlet Bahceli speaks with officials as he casts his vote at a polling station in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish ruling AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo)
Polling station officials count the ballots, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish ruling AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Polling station officials prepare to empty a box to ballots, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish ruling AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
People arrive to cast their votes in Carikli village outside Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turkey is heading to the polls on Sunday in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu speaks to the media after voting, at a polling station in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, waves to supporters after voting, at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of Erdogan. All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, (HDP). If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish AKP's constitutional plans. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
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A few days later, a Korean tourist mistaken to be Chinese was attacked by a group of ultra-nationalists in the capital. On the same day in Balikesir, protesters hung an effigy of Mao Zedong. And a few days later, the protests spread again to Istanbul, where Chinese tourists were attacked and harassed, according to CNN.

The protests gathered momentum a few weeks ago, when reports emerged that Uighurs — who share ethnicity and have close cultural ties with Turkish Muslims — who are living in western regions of China had allegedly not been allowed to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Those allegations have been denied by the Chinese government. Uighurs make up around 45% of the Xinjiang autonomous region of China.

On July 9, a group of about 200 men who are believed to be part of the East Turkestan Solidarity Groupattacked the Thai embassy in Istanbul with rocks and wooden planks. The attack followed the repatriation of over 100 Uighurs back to China by the Thai government.

In a recent interview, Devlety Bahceli, chairman of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in Turkey, whose members have been accused of assaulting tourists, said they are "sensitive to injustices in China."

"Our nationalist youth is sensitive to injustices in China. They should have the freedom to exercise their democratic rights. These are young kids. They may have been provoked. Plus, how are you going to differentiate between Korean and Chinese? They both have slanted eyes. Does it really matter?" he said, according to Al-Monitor.

Boys wave East Turkestan flags during a protest against China near the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, July 5, 2015.Those racist comments caused uproar in national and international media. And following growing social pressure, Nationalist Action Party members told Al-Monitor that they view all tourists as their guests. The head of the Grey Wolves, the youth wing of the MHP in Istanbul, told the BBC that the attacks took place between protesters and the police — and that no tourists were harmed.

"The safety of every tourist coming to our country is our responsibility. We can't tolerate any sort of violence," he said.

Amid the multiplying attacks, the Chinese embassy issued a travel warning to its citizens and told them to avoid going out alone, getting close to protests, or taking pictures of them. The Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra also canceled its August concert in Istanbul, and local police announced it would provide extra security for an exhibition by a Chinese artist.

Cihan Yavuz, the owner of Happy China, the restaurant that was attacked in early July, says the attack was "baseless." Yavuz is Turkish and employs an Uighur cook. He had invested his life savings in the restaurant that now has to close down.

"If people want to protest the Chinese government, they can hold demonstrations in front of its embassy. It's not right to use violence for the sake of protesting," he told the BBC.

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