- Tue, 10/26/2010 - 12:00
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
With China rising as a world power, Turkey has intensified its efforts to increase dialogue, sending its foreign minister to the Asian nation for a weeklong trip just three weeks after receiving the Chinese prime minister.
Experts say, however, that it will not be easy to establish an equal relationship with Beijing.
“The increase in trade with China is creating a situation [weighted] against Turkey,” Selçuk Çolakoglu of the Ankara-based think tank USAK, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Economic targets set by the two countries are not overlapping.”
The trade balance between Turkey and China is heavily in the latter’s favor. Turkish exports to China surpassed $1.45 billion in the first eight months of 2010, compared to imports of $10.67 billion. Statistics show that 65 percent of Turkey’s $28.5 billion total foreign trade deficit from January to June was due to imports from Russia, China and the United States.
Turkey imports natural gas from Russia and technological products from the United States, while the trade deficit with China largely comes from consumer goods.
Though Turkey officially recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1971, the country has not been prominent in Ankara’s strategic vision. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s departure for China late Wednesday indicates that is changing. Turkish businessmen expressed high hopes about the new engagement, saying high-level interaction in the political realm will encourage mutual investment.
“We were continually in the position of being the importing country. Exports were long neglected. Now there’s an awakening,” said Derya Aydiner, head of the Turkish-Chinese Chamber of Commerce. “We are moving from one-sided interaction toward mutual trade with China.”
Both economic and political relationships between the two countries remained weak until the 1990s, when China stepped onto the world stage after its reform and opening-up drive in 1978, becoming a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001. Turkey and China have set a timetable to increase their trade volume to $50 billion by 2015 and to $100 billion by 2020, boldly vowing to trade in their national currencies.
A strategic partnership?
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that Turkey and China had agreed to boost their relationship to the level of strategic cooperation, something he hailed as an important sign following the institution of similar policies with Russia and Iran.
Though Western-oriented opinion makers have recently criticized Ankara for moving away from Europe and forging close links with countries in the Middle East, especially Iran, analysts say the warming of Turkish-Chinese relations will not fuel such debates. Instead, they say, the growing ties should be seen as an effort to fill a significant gap in Turkish foreign policy.
President Abdullah Gül visited China in 2009 and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao became the first Chinese premier in eight years to visit Turkey when he traveled to Ankara early this month. Turkey and China have signed eight separate agreements to deepen their ties on issues ranging from energy and transportation to telecommunications and culture. The relationship has also grown in the military sphere, with NATO-member Turkey inviting China to join an Anatolian Eagle military exercise.
Not all analysts think the relationship will continue to progress smoothly, though.
“All this should not be interpreted as Turkish-Chinese relations turning into a strategic partnership. This is not the case at all. Whatever Turkey and China do to improve their relationship, they will remain rivals,” said Sinan Ogan, the chairman of the Ankara-based think tank TÜRKSAM. “In 15 to 20 years time, Turkey will become part of a natural alliance made up of the United States, Russia and Japan against China. The Turkish position will not be for, but against China.”
Energy could be a key part of the two countries’ future relations, but with both dependent on oil and gas, and competing for Caspian-based resources, cooperation will not be easy to come by. Experts say renewable energy and nuclear energy could be more promising.
Uighur Turks a source of concern
Connections between Turkey and Uighur Turks in China continue to be a potential source of problems in Turkish-Chinese relations.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, shares linguistic and religious links with the Uighurs in China’s western-most region, known in Turkish as Dogu Türkistan (East Turkistan). There are several associations belonging to Uighur Turks in Turkey.
Ankara was only able to normalize its relationship with Beijing after it made some restrictions on activities of Uighur Turks in Turkey, who protested Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s trip to Ankara early this month. Members of the East Turkistan Culture and Solidarity Association chanted slogans and unfurled banners in front of the hotel where Wen was staying. One of the protesters attempted to throw a shoe at the Chinese leader but failed to connect with his target.
The relationship with China was strained by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s describing the 2009 ethnic violence in China’s Xinjiang region as “a kind of genocide” and granting a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur based in the United States who China has blamed for the ethnic unrest that killed some 184 people.
FM Davutoglu’s schedule
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will set out for China late Wednesday, after attending the National Security Council meeting in Ankara. He will first visit Kashgar, an oasis city in the western part of the Xinjiang region, and then travel to Urumqui, the capital of Xinjiang, on Thursday. Davutoglu will fly to Shanghai on Saturday and visit the Turkish pavilion at the EXPO fair. On Monday, he will travel to the capital, Beijing, to participate in official meetings and lecture on Turkish-Chinese relations at the Beijing International Studies Institute.