Turkey, China Forging Strategic Political, Economic Ties

Originally published by Asbarez.com,28 Oct 2010

ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey is working to create closer political ties with China and reduce its trade gap with the Asian country, the Turkish foreign minister said Wednesday, calling the growing relationship an “awakening of history.”

“We will keep the relationship with China on track through political interactions and regular visits and close the gap arising from the foreign trade deficit by promoting economic ties,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a small group of journalists en route to China late Wednesday.

“We are planning [on establishing] a strategic cooperation council with China that will be like the one with Russia, but not as complicated,” he added, saying the details are still being worked out.

Similar arrangements have been established with Turkey’s neighbors, including Iraq, Syria and Greece, and strategically important countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan under Davutoglu’s motto of “zero problem, maximum cooperation.” The country’s foreign policy strategy has three key elements, he said: routine dialogue with allies including the United States and other Western nations; increasing cooperation with neighboring countries such as Greece and Syria; and finally expanding Ankara’s strategic vision to incorporate new or renewed ties with Brazil, China, India, Japan, Australia, Russia and South Korea.

“The normalization in our relationship with Syria is not abnormal – indeed, the bad relations in the past were abnormal,” Davutoglu said, adding that the growing ties with China were another example of Turkish efforts to return to times in history when bonds between the two were strong.

Davutoglu’s weeklong trip to China comes after Turkish Prime Minister visited China earlier in the month to discuss the new “strategic partnership. Speaking at a joint news conference on October 8, Prime Ministers Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Liu Xiobo said they aimed to increase bilateral trade to $50 billion a year by 2015 and to $100 billion by 2020.

Members of the G20 group of rich and developing countries, Turkey and China have two of the fastest growing economies in the world and are looking to boost their global influence. Erdogan and Xiobo announced during their press conference that the two countries would use the lira and yuan instead of dollars for bilateral trade.

The two leaders also signed eight deals in areas including trade, infrastructure, energy and railway networks that would help connect Istanbul to Beijing through a “modern silk road”.

According to Davutoglu, Turkey and China are also deeply invested in promoting stability in the Middle East. The Turkish premier said China has been involved in Turkey’s efforts, along with Brazil, to broker a controversial nuclear-swap deal to resolve the conflict over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

“We were in close touch with the China during that period. They realized the potential,” the foreign minister said. “The Chinese are closely following our influence in the region.”

Davutoglu said Turkey plans to establish a trilateral cooperation platform with China and Pakistan, an idea he floated as a way to generate peaceful solutions to the 2009 Uighur crisis and one he said was welcomed by the other two countries. “We are planning to promote cooperation between Turkey, China and Pakistan and hold three-way talks,” he said.

Turkey’s ties with China have been complicated at times because of Beijing’s tough approach to unrest in Xinjiang, home to China’s Muslim Turkic minority of Uighurs.

Relations with China normalized in the aftermath of a 2009 outbreak of violence in the Xinjiang region, first with a visit by journalists to the region and then with ministerial-level contacts, Davutoglu said. He added that the Chinese invited him to come as well, and he accepted, but first called for calm in the crisis. “This trip is a result of that condition being fulfilled,” he said.