Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Is Turkey Pivoting to China?

By Michael Singh

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy - October 24, 2016

U.S.-Turkish relations were strained before the July coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and they have only worsened since. Turkish officials have made the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who leads the global organization "Hizmet" from his home in Pennsylvania, a test of American commitment to Turkey, while suggesting that the U.S. government itself may have had a hand in the coup. The United States, for its part, has voiced mounting concern about civil liberties in Turkey and Ankara's viability as an American ally in the coup's wake. Turkey's relations with the EU -- already marred by Europe's de facto rejection of Turkey's accession bid and, more recently, by the Syrian refugee crisis -- have suffered as well.
Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Ankara is reaching out to other powers. Turkey and Iran -- whose foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was notably supportive of Erdogan as the coup attempt unfolded -- have seen their relations warm in recent months. Turkey and Russia, whose relations cratered in late 2015 after a Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkish forces, have restored relatively normal ties in the wake of reciprocal visits by Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin to St. Petersburg and Istanbul, respectively, in the coup's aftermath.
Yet both of these relationships are limited by history and geography. An insecure and revanchist Moscow, fresh off annexing territory on the Black Sea littoral, makes an uncomfortable ally for Ankara. And Iran, while an important trading partner, is more often opposed to than aligned with Ankara on regional issues ranging from Syria to Iraq to the role of the United States.
More promising for Erdogan than an alliance with Moscow or Tehran is one with Beijing. While they are already close trading partners, they may be poised to deepen their relationship as Ankara looks to hedge against overdependence on the United States, and as Beijing aims to increase its economic, diplomatic, and military engagement in a region that is increasingly vital to its interests.