Turkey, China seek to expand economic ties despite political differences

14:55 | 08/07/2019 Global Economy

Turkey and China have expanded ties, but their relationship is marked by continued distrust and competition. The two sides are expanding economic cooperation but fundamental political differences remain.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Beijing last week to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, as the two countries seek to build on budding economic and political ties at a time both are experiencing a low point in their relations with the United States. 

Meanwhile, the ongoing US-China trade dispute coincides with the world's two largest economies being locked in a geopolitical power struggle to define the future world order.

However, Erdogan's eighth meeting with Xi since 2012 is more about economics and diversifying relations, not part of a strategic shift to the East, experts said.

"Turkey's relations with China cannot replace its alliance with the United States or relations with the European Union," said Altay Atli, a lecturer at Koc University in Istanbul who specializes in Turkish-Asian relations. "Turkey has very deep and mutually beneficial relations with the West."

He added that Ankara's foreign policy aims to make Turkey an international actor capable of expanding relations with all countries, unlike during the Cold War when it was tied to the Western bloc.

One main area of divergence between Ankara and Beijing is over the Syrian war, where Turkey has backed the opposition and China has economically and politically supported the regime and Russia's military intervention. 

Belt and Road

China-Turkey bilateral trade reached $23 billion in 2018 (€20.3 billion), according to the Turkish Statistics Office, making China Turkey's third largest trading partner.

The trade relationship is marked by a massive $18 billion imbalance in China's favor, something that Turkey is seeking to address by expanding exports and attracting Chinese investment at a time its economy is struggling.

For China, Turkey's position at the crossroads of the Middle East, south Caucasus, Eastern Mediterranean and Europe makes it a key geographical location for Xi's Belt and Road Initiative and his bid to expand its global influence to balance against the United States.  

Theo Dw