50 years on, relations between Turkey and China have strengthened on many fronts.
In recent years, relations have improved significantly in the economic, commerce, tourism, and transportation domains.
Turkey and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations in August 1971.
In parallel to both countries’ opening-ups in the 1980s, mainly bilateral, economic, and political relations gained momentum. From the last decade onwards, the relations grew into a strategic cooperation level.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited China in 2012 as prime minister and as president in 2015, 2017, and 2019.
Furthermore, Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in G20 Summits held in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019, in Hangzhou, Antalya, Buenos Aires, and Osaka, respectively.
Bilateral trade deficit shrinks
The trade volume between China and Turkey is around $24 billion as of 2020. Thanks to Turkey’s soaring export to China, the foreign trade deficit that favored the latter decreased by 7% in the last five years.
This originates primarily from the increasing export volume of Turkish agricultural and husbandry goods to China.
Major Chinese smartphone manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo have made direct investments in Turkey.
Especially after the celebration of Turkey’s Year in China in 2018, a substantial increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Turkey was witnessed.
Against this background, in 2019, over 426,000 Chinese tourists visited Turkey.
Though the pandemic led to a decrease in the number of Chinese tourists in 2020, it is expected that the goal of 1 million Chinese tourists to Turkey will be reached in the coming years.
China’s Road and Belt Initiative
Bilateral relations also improved in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative that Xi Jinping announced in 2013.
In 2015, the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century on the Harmonization of the Maritime Silk Road through Central Corridor Initiative Reconciliation Memorandum was signed, originally proposed by Turkey with China’s Belt and Road.
In line with this memorandum, Turkey completed the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project.
The first export train to China via this route, which constitutes an essential leg of the Middle Corridor, departed from Istanbul on Dec. 4, 2020, and reached the city of Xian in central China on Dec.19, 2020. The train, which covered a total length of 8,693 kilometers, carried appliances to China.
Recognizing China’s right to fight terrorism, Turkey has urged Beijing to draw a fine line between terrorists and innocent people.
Turkey also reinstates that the Chinese authorities are expected to respect universal human rights, including the religious freedom of Uyghur Turks and other Muslim groups.
In recent years, violations of the identity and culture of Uyghur Turks in China have been criticized on the international front.
A 2018 Human Rights Watch report detailed a Chinese government campaign of “mass arbitrary detention, torture, forced political indoctrination, and mass surveillance of Xinjiang’s Muslims.”
China, however, has repeatedly denied allegations that it is operating detention camps in its northwestern autonomous region, claiming instead that they are “re-educating” Uyghurs.
*Writing by Ahmet Gencturk