On September 4 and 5 of 2016 China hosted the 11th G20 summit in the city of Hangzhou, bringing together leaders from around the globe. Rather than towards traditional global financial crisis response, China chose the core theme of the Hangzhou Summit “Towards Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy” to identify a new path for enhancing the potential for medium-to-long term economic growth. As the host country, China played an important role as a promoter of inclusivity. Hangzhou Summit gathered a larger number of developing countries together with developed countries as “equal partners”. This is also in line with the transformation of the G20’s focus, that is to work together with all countries, particularly emerging economies to stimulate “strong, sustainable and balanced growth”. Addition to the promotion of inclusivity, Hangzhou Summit also rendered a bridge that connects the past with the future. It was not only pushing forward restructuring global attention to innovation and consumption driven growth, but also aligning with the action plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure that no country left behind in achieving sustainable development. Moreover, Hangzhou Summit was also integrated China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, and emphasised the key elements for promoting an effective international cooperation and sustainable global economic development.
To such meeting, bilateral cooperation is surely in China’s interest particularly with the emerging market like Turkey. In fact, the progress made towards convergence in the relations between China and Turkey has been more apparent during this summit. At the summit, China and Turkey highlighted new sectors for bilateral cooperation. Xi and Erdoğan signed four overarching agreements, covering almost most aspects of their economic ties in clean and renewable energy and coal, agriculture exports from Turkey to China, and the regulation of cooperation on nuclear security. Cooperation in “infrastructure construction” (增强基础设施) and “energy field” (能源领域合作) have become the two key economic cooperation areas for both countries. Under China’s continuous economic reform and opening-up, and Turkey’s aspiration for industrialisation and modernisation, it is critical for both countries to make substantial progress in aligning China’s “One Belt and One Road” (OBOR) initiative with Turkey’s “Middle Corridor” plan.
The Edirne-Kars railway was illustrative of this form of collaboration. The 2000 km long project, connecting eastern and western Turkey, linking China with Central Asia and Europe, offers a probable advantage to help restoration of the prosperity along the ancient Silk Road with respect to efficiency. Higher speed railway is expected to shorten the transportation time greater than the current, and also provide numerous opportunities to Turkey as well as the countries along the railroad for infrastructure and economic development. In 1st of July 2016, before the G20 Hangzhou Summit, Committee on Foreign Affairs of Turkish Parliament came up with two draft laws on the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Railways between the government of China and Turkey, and also Memorandum of Understanding on Aligning the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Middle Corridor Initiative between Turkey and China. Given the interest of Turkish government, China agreed to play a supportive role in this project and offer the official development assistance to Turkey. Fundamentally speaking, this signals that both countries are ready to pursue a long-term cooperation in terms of carrying out OBOR and realising both economic goals in practice.
Despite raising the level of relations through the ‘Iron Silk Road’ project, China and Turkey has also succeeded in initiating an ‘Online Silk Road’ project, promoting e-commerce in support of the implementation of OBOR. In April 2016, Turkey and China established China-Turkey E-Commerce Pilot Project with a leading Chinese online wholesale marketplace DHgate.com. To China, Turkey is an uncontested fast growing ecommerce country with a tremendous potential in emerging markets. According to China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Turkey is the first and a key stopping-off point along the OBOR initiative to connect European market. As the second biggest trade partner of Turkey, China intends to drive for the trade and mutual prosperity, deepening mutual cooperation between Chinese and Turkish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the field of e-trade.
In order to further explore the Turkey-China cross border trade through internet, China’s National Development and Reform Commission has also actively promoted the construction of “Online Silk Road”. China signed an agreement with Turkey in June 2016 and both agreed to invest 500 million Yuan ($76 million) to develop a multilingual cross-border e-commerce platform, including Chinese, English, Turkish and Uygur languages. This was an unquestionable success for China. As the CEO of DHgate explained, focusing on Turkey would benefit Chinese cross-border e-commerce to extend towards China’s peripheral countries along the OBOR. It is also an important mark of increasing China’s voice in global economic governance, establishing China’s e-commerce trade rules and regulations to help Chinese standards go global.
Despite of pushing forward the China-Turkey economic cooperation in an inclusive and interconnected way, the goal of the bilateral cooperation also focused on “the core issue of political mutual trust”. At the summit, Xi stated Turkey’s affirmation of never allowing any activities to undermine China’s security to take place on Turkish soil, and hoped to achieve more substantial results in anti-terrorism and security cooperation with Turkey.
According to the comments from German state broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) in its Chinese language edition, Xi’s concern is in line with the overall important and politically sensitive issue of Xinjiang. Particularly, the recent cases stoke China’s concerns such as the some Uyghur illegally sneaking into Turkey in an attempt to cross Turkish border into Syria to fight for the transnational jihadist movement ISIS via Southeast Asia, and the allegation of Ramadan restrictions on Uyghur Muslims from fasting by thousands of Turkish protesters. China would be certainly willing to intensify collaboration with Turkey on maintaining its national security and social stability. The bilateral talks before G20 Hangzhou Summit on anti-terrorism apparently reflected China’s concern on Turkey’s contributions on increasingly serious challenges for China.
Meanwhile, to China, a stable Turkey would provide more favourable environment for balancing global political and economic development. China implements a cautious approach to Turkey’s domestic the political chaos. Taking Turkey’s failed coup attempt occurred in 15 July 2016 as an example, almost in two weeks after the failed coup attempt, on 3 August 2016, China sent Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming to Turkey as the first senior Chinese representative to visit Turkey. From Turkey’s perspective, Zhang’s visit was timely and supportive. From China’s perspective, Turkey’s stability has certainly ties China’s goal in building a long-term effective governance. In her remarks on Zhang’s visit to Turkey foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying highlighted China’s concern to look forward to further deepening political mutual trust and bolstering the sound and steady development of China-Turkey relations through Zhang’s visit. This has been responded by Turkish president Erdoğan during the meeting with Xi with an appreciation to China’s support to maintain Turkey’s national security and social stability. In this sense, both countries are looking for political relations besides the overwhelming common economic interests.
In sum, so far China and Turkey have achieved a certain level of economic interdependence and political consensus. The bilateral talks before the G20 Hangzhou Summit between Xi and Erdoğan moved upward Chinese-Turkish relations rising to a higher position. An ample cooperation also seems to take both relations to a more positive path. However, Turkey’s policy choice towards Western alliance and Eastern partnership add more variables to this bilateral relationship. Both countries may need to adopt and learn how to tighten and deepen the relations with each other to achieve their economic growth and sustainable future.
The author would like to thank Dr. Mustafa Murat Yurtbilir for his assistance in editing this article.
Australian National University
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