11/18/2017
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Turkey and China in Xi Jinping era


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

ISTANBUL - The Chinese Communist Party held its 19th National Congress between Oct. 18 and 24. Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have consolidated his power by enshrining his name and two of his flagship projects in the party constitution.

His ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era' and policy principles on anti-corruption campaign and the One Belt-One Road (OBOR) project are now included in the constitution.

Analysts underline that Mr. Jinping has now been elevated to the position of China's founder Mao Zedong and the architect of China's opening to international economy, Deng Xiaoping. His name, all in all, has been incorporated into the constitution while he is alive.

With the increase in Jinping's power, China will now pursue a much more confident and assertive foreign policy. The old policy of 'bidding its time and hiding its capabilities' will likely give way to a much bolder foreign policy line aiming at accelerating China's journey to global power status.

Xi Jinping, during his long opening speech on Oct. 18, repeatedly referred to China's great power identity and stressed that his number one priority would be to help materialize his China dream. He underlined that the days of China's humiliation were now left behind and the time for Chinese rejuvenation as a civilizational global power had already arrived.

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What makes the latest Chinese Communist Party Congress quite interesting from Turkey's perspective is that Chinese people have now united behind President Jinping in his efforts to help bring into existence a new world order that would increasingly reflect China's geopolitical priorities and global vision.

At a time of worsening relations with Western allies, the idea of strengthening economic, political and military relations with China has never been more attractive for Turkey’s administrators.

Frequent visits

Recent years have seen a hectic traffic between the two countries. Chinese and Turkish statesmen have visited each other quite often. Of late, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the One Belt-One Road summit meeting held in China in May and Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu visited China on the eve of the Asean summit meeting held in Manila in early August.

Just as Turkish leaders view improving relations with China quite important in the context of Turkey's efforts to hold firm against the Western powers, Chinese leaders consider Turkey a powerhouse in the greater Middle East region and a country that appears to hold a pivotal position in the context of China's OBOR project.

Turkish officials underline that Turkey's ‘Middle Corridor’ initiative aligns perfectly with China's OBOR project, for both aim to revive the ancient Silk Road. Turkey is situated in China's route of access to European markets and will derive great benefits from becoming a node/hub of the global supply chains that connect the Chinese and European markets with each other.

Bilateral trade

Turkey's trade with China has dramatically improved over the last decade. The trade volume between the two countries is around $30 billion, making China Turkey's second biggest trade partner after Germany. China is the country from which Turkey imports most.

Turkey's trade with East Asia in general has also increased in recent years. Nearly 20 percent of Turkey's international trade is now with the countries located in East and Southeast Asia.

Even though the bilateral trade is overwhelmingly in China's favor with Turkish trade gap with China about $25 billion, Turkish officials think that this gap can be potentially bridged through growing Chinese foreign direct investment in Turkish economy, notably in the fields of energy, transportation, telecommunication, infrastructure, logistics, among others.

Compared to the amount of foreign direct investment of Western countries in Turkish economy, there is a long way to go for China. As of today, Chinese investment in Turkish economy approximately amounts to $1 billion. The growing number of Chinese tourists visiting Turkey might also help narrow this gap.

Tourism

Given China's human potential and the fact that Chinese tourists outspend all other nationals, Turkey will derive immense economic benefits should the number of Chinese tourists visiting Turkey exceeds the one-million threshold, rising from being around 300,000 as of this year.

Chinese tourists, unlike many Western Europeans and Russians visiting Turkey, prefer to spend time on historical and cultural sites and buy luxury goods. Turkey's potential is great in the area of cultural tourism.

Strategic factor

Another factor driving Turkey and China closer to each other is strategic. Turkey's efforts to buy long-range air defense missiles from China and participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are well known.

Though Turkish decision-makers have recently decided to buy such missiles from Russia, i.e., the S-400 missiles, China still appears as an attractive source in this regard due to the low price of its military exports as well as the Chinese willingness to share technology with buyers.

Turkey’s seeking to reach a mutual understanding regarding the situation of the Uyghur Turks and its decision to increase its cooperation with China in the field of counterterrorism are also unprecedented.

Commonalities

It seems that a number of commonalities facilitate the recent closeness between the two countries.

First, both societies adopt a communitarian approach to morality, rather than an individualistic one, and place the state as an institution at the heart of political life.

Second, both countries are extremely sovereignty-sensitive and display a high degree of skepticism towards international humanitarian operations in the name of 'universal human rights'. Claims to universal human rights and morality are despised by the larger segments of both societies.

Third, both countries are extremely sensitive about the preservation of territorial integrity and societal cohesion, and believe that international relations should be based on the sanctity of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.

Fourth, both countries subscribe to the idea that the current global order is not just and fair and therefore needs to be reformed. Many global platforms and international institutions that came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War are no longer legitimate, for they do not reflect the emerging power dynamics of today's world.

China, Turkey and many other rising powers should be given more representation in the existing global institutional platforms. Otherwise, they would take each and every opportunity to help midwife alternative organizational settings, such as the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and MIKTA, i.e., the regional platform that brings Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia together in such a way to help coordinate their global strategies.

Fifth, both countries appear to place their developmental needs atop liberal democratic reforms. It would not be wrong to argue that Turkey no longer defines the so-called 'Washington consensus' as the only game in town, having recently come much closer to the so-called 'Beijing consensus' akin to many other developing/rising nations.

Of these two countries, Turkey, rather than China, needs to demonstrate a heavy dose of realism in its foreign policy, for Turkey is a medium-power country, whose geopolitical capital is no match to China's.

If Turkey’s efforts to strengthen its relations with China are in the name of 'adjustment' to the emerging multi-polar era and reflect Ankara's desire to play global powers off against each other, it should be fine.

Otherwise, tagging along the Chinese train at the expense of Turkey's decades-long security alliance with the West would be quite a risky strategy to pursue, given the high degree of interdependent relations between Turkey and Western actors.


*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.


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