Whenever the Turkish and Chinese authorities come together, they usually say, “We are two friendly nations on the historical Silk Road, and culturally we have so many similarities.” These words are no longer available. China’s attitude toward Turkey after the downing of Russian warplane suggests that these words cannot be said now or any time soon.
Relations between the two countries are remarkably less than in previous years. The cold winds that are high in senior relations are also evidence of this. Among the reasons for this situation, we can list a few topics.
There is a lot of difference between the present situation and the goals set during the official contacts of Chinese then-Premier Wen Jiabao who went to Turkey upon the invitation of Turkish then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in October 2010. In this visit, the trade volume between the two countries is targeted to be increased to 50 billion dollars in 2015 and 100 billion dollars in 2020. However, the volume of bilateral trade, which was 27.8 billion dollars in 2014, was 27 billion in 2015 according to the Turkish Ministry of Economy. During this period, Turkey’s exports to China amounted to 2.4 billion dollars and our imports from China were 24.8 billion dollars. Non the less , this figure is very small compared to the foreign trade volume of China, which is more than 4 trillion dollars. China is the 19th country with the highest number of exports and the 1st country with the highest imports with Turkey. With recent situation occurred in Syria, it became clear that Erdogan’s “We agreed to raise the level of strategic cooperation in our relations.” discourse is impossible to be achieved.
During the past years, tensions between Turkey and China have occasionally happened. Turkey’s policy towards Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest of China, known as East Turkestan, and the steps taken by Turkey in the recent years related to Uighurs are drawing Beijing’s reaction. Turkey’s attitude about the incidents that happened after then-President Abdullah Gul’s historical visit to Urumqi has annoyed China. This disturbance was eliminated with high-level visits later on. However, recent reports of Uighurs fighting in Syria, the capture of the network that brings Uighurs from China to Turkey with fake passports and finally shooting down of China’s strategic partner Russia’s warplane have about to brought bilateral relations to halt. Of course, there are other reasons that cause cold winds to spill over in relationships. For example, it is one of these events that Turkey is expected to take China’s air defense system and has announced annulment of it during the G20 Summit in Antalya, where Chinese President Xi Jinping joined last year. Because of its cost advantages and technology transfer, Turkey side started to negotiate with China about air defense system at the end of 2013. At one point, the news that the Chinese company won the bid was reflected in the press and China was proud to sell such a system to a NATO member country for the first time. However, Turkey has given different reasons to China each time due to West’s pressure and extended the proposal five times. Finally, after the announcement that Turkey canceled the tender during the G20 summit last year, the Chinese media claimed that Turkey’s position on the issue of missile negotiations was insincere. Additionally, Turkey’s announcement of annulment of tender during Chinese President Xi’s Turkey visit was perceived by China as diplomatic disrespect.
On the other hand, steps like Turkey’s opening of Uighur asylum doors in Thailand last year were among the steps that led to China’s dissatisfaction. According to the Chinese media, It pleased China that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that he was opposed to East Turkestan Islamic Movement during his official visit to China at the end of July, but developments afterward didn’t change Beijing’s main policy about Ankara. Steps such as the Turkish side unilaterally bringing easily accessible electronic visas for Chinese tourists also did not change the Chinese attitude. On the contrary, the number of Turkish citizens who say that they have experienced victimization or problems in Chinese border gates recently is not uncommon. Against all these developments, the reaction of the Chinese institutions took place in the form of new sanctions, such as tourists coming from Turkey to China have to come via travel agency, commercial visas now need to obtain approved document of acceptance from the state and local municipal institutions, Turkish citizens who already allowed to reside in China have to attend an interview to extend their visa.
Unusual practices against Turkish citizens at airports entering or departing from China were seen as a different response method. In short, Chinese government showing its reaction to Turkey not by the way of media, but by the way of sanctions, such as visa restrictions against Turkey, tight control of Turkish citizens at airports and blocking Chinese tourists from going to Turkey.
In summary, it is difficult to say that the bilateral relations in recent years are good. The main factor that drags relations to this level is the problems of trust and sincerity between the two countries. Tourism paradise Turkey needs to improve its strategy to increase its share at 100 million Chinese tourists. As a matter of fact, Turkey should be able to understand China, which is the second largest economy in the world and increasing its international arena activity, and show its attitude in accordance with the interests of both countries based on realistic foundations, not sentimental ones. Because all developed and developing countries of the world are taking strategic steps to strengthen their cooperation with China on the basis of mutual benefit and respect. Why does Turkey stay out of this?