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Turkey strives to rebuild bridges with China to improve trade

Turkey strives to rebuild bridges with China to improve trade
Turkey strives to rebuild bridges with China to improve trade


Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan's visit to China earlier this month is Ankara's latest diplomatic effort to become a strategic trade hub between Europe and China. But Beijing's suspicions about Ankara's support for Chinese Uyghur dissidents are widely seen as an obstacle.

Bilateral trade and the development of new trade routes were among the top priorities of Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan during his recent visit to China.

According to Cagdas Ungor, China expert and professor of political science at Marmara University in Istanbul UniversityTurkey wishes to participate in the evolution of world trade towards the Asia-Pacific region.

“Turkey must rebuild all these connections to remain at the center of things, maintaining its status as a bridge between East and West,” he explained to RFI.

Ankara seeks support from Beijing for its “Middle corridor“trade route, which would connect China to Europe via Turkey.

So far, those efforts have made little progress, but Ungor says that could change as the global economy is reorganized to bypass sanctions-hit Russia.

The Middle Corridor has been on the table between China and Turkey for a long time, says Ungor.

Window of opportunity

“This idea has become more popular today due to Russian sanctions, and Europeans are now also interested in alternative channels. There is a window of opportunity,” he says.

But Beijing criticizes the fact that Ankara offers refuge to China's predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority.

The Chinese have not forgotten that in 2009, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he called China's repression against the Uighurs a “near-genocide.”

The international community, including the United States and the European Union, has also accused China of incarcerating tens of thousands of members of its largest Muslim minority in camps in an effort to strip them of their Muslim identity. Beijing has denied the accusations, saying the camps are designed to combat separatism and eliminate Islamist extremists.

Since then, the issue appears to have gone under the bridge, judging by the warm welcome given to the Turkish diplomat during his visit to China in early June.

Analysts say Fidan used more conciliatory language on the issue during his trip that included a stopover in Xinjiang, home to many Uighurs.

Respect for the One-China Policy

Ungor said the Chinese were “satisfied” with Fidan's visit as it further underlines Turkey's support for China's one-China policy.

“Chinese official media has focused on the fact that Turkey respects China's territorial integrity,” says Ungor.

“And Fidan's remarks on Xinjiang's economic development, social harmony and respect for cultural rights” made a good impression, Ungor adds.

Turkish pro-government media even praised Fidan for wearing a turquoise tie, the color of the Uyghur community, and referencing the region's Turkish Muslim roots.

However, some members of the Uighur diaspora were alarmed by Fidan's visit.

Uyghur leaderSeyit Tumturk, speaker of the East Turkestan National Assembly, accused the Chinese administration of “trying to legitimize its own genocide” by organizing Fidan's visit to the Uyghur region.

Tumturk argues that “Hakan Fidan saw what China wanted him to see, but no more”, suggesting that if China had nothing to hide, then it should allow independent international observers the opportunity to s 'go there “and visit not only the places that China says”. see but also the alleys, visit the houses and determine the agony, pain and torture that reign there,” he concludes.


Adding to Uyghur dissidents' unease over Fidan's visit to China are growing rumors that Ankara is willing to accept Beijing's lobbying to ratify an extradition deal held up in the Turkish parliament in the face of strong opposition.

“The ultranationalist opposition claims that China obtained a promise from Fidan that the Turkish parliament would finally ratify an extradition treaty, which would allow the Uighurs to be returned to China,” explains Ceren Ergenc, China specialist and guest researcher at the Institute. Center for European policy studies.

“We can't know if it's true or not, we have to wait and see. If it's true, then it's a huge compromise on Turkey's part,” Ergenc adds.

Such a compromise could help overcome Beijing's current reluctance to collaborate with Ankara. But any action Ankara takes against the Uyghurs will be risky given Turkish public opinion's strong support for the Chinese minority.

“China is unofficially bypassing Turkey in its regional plans. Turkey is a wild card for China,” says Ergenc, adding that Turkey is also officially classified as a high-risk country for investments by Chinese companies.

“The Uyghur diaspora is very strong in Turkey in terms of the electoral base of conservative parties, so you never know how a statement like Erdogan's ten years ago could create a crisis between the two countries.




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