BEIJING (Reuters) – China and Thailand have agreed to step up their cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration and terror, the Chinese government said on Wednesday, as Thailand deals with an influx of Uighurs from China’s unruly far western region of Xinjiang.
Chinese officials in Thailand have identified numerous Uighurs among the individuals Thai police have rescued from a people-smuggling camp, and those confirmed to be from China will be sent home, a state-run Chinese newspaper said last month.
Thai police told Reuters about 200 people rescued in March were believed to be Uighurs, many of whom chafe at Chinese government curbs on their culture and Muslim religion.
In a joint communique released by China’s foreign ministry following a visit to Beijing by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, both countries said they would hold defence and security dialogue between their defence ministries.
The two will enhance cooperation in the “prevention and the eradication of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, terrorism and transnational crimes”, the communique said.
“The Thai side viewed that China could significantly contribute to the development of the countries in the region through its contributions to such areas as health, anti-drug trafficking and human trafficking,” it added.
There was no direct reference to the Uighurs.
Hundreds of people have been killed in unrest in Xinjiang in the past two years, prompting a crackdown by Chinese authorities, who blame the problem on militants who want an independent state called East Turkestan.
Small numbers of Uighur people have begun trickling out of China to Southeast Asia. They are believed to go overland into Laos or Myanmar, and then onwards to Thailand and elsewhere.
The communique also made reference to Thailand’s political situation, whose military government has been censured by some Western countries following a coup there earlier this year.
“China reiterated its understanding of the political situation in Thailand. China expressed support for the efforts by the Royal Thai Government in implementing the roadmap on national reform, in promoting economic growth and in improving the well-being of the people,” it said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Thailand last week, where he offered more than $3 billion in loans and aid to neighbours Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos to improve infrastructure and production.