Thursday, March 16, 2017

China-Turkey Relations Grow Despite Differences over Uighurs

By Giorgio Cafiero and Bertrand Viala

MEI | Mar 15, 2017

Since the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, Turkey has been looking east for new partners to decrease Ankara’s dependence on traditional Western allies. The election of Donald Trump has contributed to the further estrangement of Turkey’s relationship with its traditional NATO allies, leaving Ankara less comfortable remaining so reliant on Washington for regional security matters. Unquestionably, Russia has played the most influential role in Turkey’s strategic pivot of the past eight months. However, China also factors into Turkey’s eastward shift.
Despite China not being one of Turkey’s major trading partners in the 20th century, Sino-Turkish relations have grown significantly since Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (A.K.P.) came to power in 2002. At that time, bilateral trade was roughly $1 billion; last year that figure reached $27 billion. As the A.K.P. has sought to continue strengthening Turkey’s relationship with China, the party’s ideology and domestic political agendas have at times constrained the potential for Ankara and Beijing to deepen their links. Specifically, tensions between the Chinese government and the country’s Muslim-practicing Uighur minority in Xinjiang have fueled problems in Sino-Turkish relations. Yet at this point, given Ankara’s interest in diversifying its web of partners on the international stage, it appears that the A.K.P. leadership has taken stock of China’s value to Turkey and has decided to tone down its public displays of solidarity with the Uighurs.