Changing international order and Turkish-Chinese relations

Changing international order and Turkish-Chinese relations

By Orçun Göktürk / Beijing, China

The title was taken from a think tank (Center for China and Globalization) event at which Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was the keynote speaker. In the 21st century, Turkish-Chinese relations are developing on this basis, both influencing and being influenced by the multipolarity of the international order.

Behind the scenes of Fidan’s visit

Fidan was in Beijing between June 3 and 5 in response to the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. On the first day, Fidan met with senior officials in Beijing and made statements that were not only on the agenda of the two countries but also on the world headlines. According to the Hong Kong-based independent newspaper South China Morning Post, Fidan said at an event on June 3, “Certainly, we would like to become a member of BRICS.” I do not think there was a more significant media highlight of Fidan’s visit to China on international media organs. But there is more to it as well.

The highlights of Fidan’s visit can be summarized in two perspectives: first, economic and political issues between the two countries were at the top of Fidan’s agenda. Second, of course, international developments such as the Palestinian issue and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

When people in Türkiye think of Turkish-Chinese relations, one of the first focusing points that comes to mind is Türkiye’s large trade deficit. This was the first item on Fidan’s agenda. The trade volume of the two countries has increased by 40 times in the last 20 years. Türkiye and China have a trade volume of nearly 48 billion dollars in 2023, and unfortunately, Türkiye has a deficit of almost 40 billion dollars. Of course, China also needs to take the necessary steps. Mr. Fidan proposed some solutions to close the gap. These include lifting restrictions on Türkiye’s agricultural products, increasing the number of tourists coming from China, and increasing Chinese investments, especially in nuclear energy and new technology.

But none of this will lead to balanced trade between the two countries. Yes, it may create some positivity for Türkiye, but it is not enough to change the essence of the picture. The question for Türkiye should be, how is Türkiye going to close this deficit without producing, under the Mehmet Şimşek’s economy policy with a neoliberal economic model that has become the plaything of Western financial agents?

High-level visit to Xinjiang after 12 years

Another issue in bilateral relations is the Uyghur issue. In the same way that the US uses PKK separatism against Türkiye’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the US also supports East Turkestan separatism in China. Years of huge Western media black propaganda have significantly undermined Turkish-Chinese relations. The fact that the issue is also easily manipulated in Turkish domestic politics creates a fragile structure in relations between the two countries.

In this sense, Fidan’s visits to Urumqi and Kashgar on June 4-5 were very important. For the first time in 12 years, a high-level Turkish official visited the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region. Of course, Fidan’s visit should be evaluated together with the statements, “We support China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” made several times in his joint press statement with his counterpart Wang Yi. Indeed, the Chinese public opinion emphasized this more than the BRICS membership issue.

The Uighur issue is being used by the US to prevent the two countries from getting closer. In this sense, both the visit and the statements of the Turkish Foreign Minister are critical in terms of removing American influence from the relations between the two countries.

“We are on the same page with China on international issues

The other prominent issue during Fidan’s visit to China was international developments. The Palestinian issue, the Russian-Ukrainian war and BRICS were on the table.

On the Palestinian issue, the two countries have almost identical positions, both advocating a ceasefire and a pre-1967 sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Just before Fidan’s visit to Beijing, there was the China-Arab Summit, where President Xi Jinping proposed a “Middle East Peace Conference” in his speech. Fidan also mentioned this as a positive initiative.

Türkiye has differences with China on the Ukraine issue. Due to its approach of bowing to the West in the name of “balance politics”, Türkiye fails to realize that the ongoing progressive war in Ukraine against the Kyiv regime and NATO is also in its own interest. Yes, Türkiye has not joined the Western sanctions against Russia, but it continues to sell weapons to the Kyiv regime. Russian leader Putin’s recent warning that “our Turkish friends are selling weapons to Kyiv, but Ukraine is bombing gas lines to Türkiye in return” has important lessons for Türkiye.

China has a “no limit” friendship with Russia. Xi Jinping’s Russian sympathies, which began when he was a child on a trip to the Soviet Union with his father (Xi says he was given the book “How the Steel was Tempered” at the time, and it made an enormous impression on him), have practically brought the two countries closer together since he became CPC leader. Naturally, China’s position on Ukraine is structurally significantly different from Türkiye’s. Nevertheless, the two countries are actively and constructively engaged in responsibility and practice to create the conditions for peace.

Finally, Fidan’s “BRICS membership” statement. Firstly, it should be noted that Fidan made these remarks at a think tank event. Normally, the topics discussed at this event, which had a “Chatham House-style” content, were not supposed to be leaked to the press and the public. Nevertheless, the news and the fact that it has become a global news item does not seem to have caused any discomfort on the Turkish side. Because neither a negative statement nor an official denial came against it.

To be sure, Turkish officials have made occasional statements in recent years about full membership in both the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But these have been nothing more than a policy of “balance” against the West. As a result, Türkiye has become more tied to the Atlantic and has created a perception that increases its “unreliable country” status towards its friends in Eurasia. Therefore, Fidan’s statements need to be more than a “goodwill gesture” for the BRICS to develop serious and trusting relations.

The question to be asked here is this: Can Türkiye become a member of BRICS while remaining in NATO and waiting at the EU door? Actually, Fidan’s speech has the right answer to this. Fidan said, “The EU has been stalling us for years due to identity politics, etc. BRICS can be a good alternative to the EU.”

True strategy to advance Turkish-Chinese relations

Türkiye has been facing US-centered threats for years. Sometimes it has experienced this painfully through US-backed military coups, but more often through the PKK-PYD separatism, being deep in debt in the Atlantic economy, and finding opposing alliances in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.

The clear shift in the international order and the decline of the Atlantic powers, which was evident in the recent European Parliament elections, presents a unique opportunity for Türkiye. Burdened by debt due to dollarization, Türkiye needs to not only rapprochement with its friends in Asia, but also to meet them under the same roof as allies militarily, politically and economically. Therein lies the real strategy for advancing Turkish-Chinese relations in a manner fit for this century.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


June 2024