China’s Turkish dilemma

China’s Turkish dilemma

Turkey’s geopolitical standing is like an oxymoron; it is both a liability and an asset.

It is a liability since Turkey is at the heart of one of the most unstable regions in the world.

It is an asset, as the very instability of the region makes Turkey a nonexpendable player, provided it maintains its relative stability.

That must be the dilemma China probably sees when it looks to Turkey: Is it an asset or a liability in its “March West” strategy?

In terms of connecting China to Europe, Turkey stands right on the route of the Silk Road Beijing wants to revive. Compared to its northern and southern neighbors as alternative routes, Turkey maintains a relative stability.

Yet, if China was to turn its head towards West today and take a look at Turkey, it would hardly see a bastion of stability. It will see a country where military planes take off to bomb targets in two of its neighbors and internal intelligence memos circulating about possible suicide bombers; in other words, it will see a country that is shaken by a wave of violence, both on its borders and within its borders.

Beijing must also see a confused, nearly berserk country when it takes a look at the Turkish policies on China.

In view of Turkish criticism of the Uighur issue, it must see a country throwing stones at others while it lives in a glass home. “How can Turkey be so careless in its criticism on the Uighur issue when it has its own separatist terrorism problem?” the Chinese must be asking. 

They must be confused in what they might see as an “arrogant courage.” “How can they dare to bully us when they are so dependent on us, as they import intermediate goods, the backbone of their exports?” they might wonder. 

Their confusion will increase further when they host Turkish President Erdoğan in China this week. He will act as if there was not an anti-Chinese campaign in the Turkish media only a few weeks ago on the Uighur issue. He will simply ask the Chinese authorities to help bridge the trade deficit that is 1 to 8.7 in favor of China.

To the astonishment of the Chinese authorities, he might ask for more Chinese tourist to come to Turkey.

“In 2014, 200,000 Chinese visited Turkey. While this is a significant increase in comparison to previous years, when considering the fact 100 million Chinese tourists go abroad, this is too small,” Erdoğan will probably complain, asking the Beijing government to encourage its nationals to go to Turkey. That will probably send shock waves to the Chinese as the images of tourists from the Far East, be it Chinese or not, attacked recently in Turkey will swim in front of their eyes.

But then again, perhaps they are used to it. After all, this is not the first time Turkey has surprised them. Isn’t Turkey the NATO member that decided, in defiance of its Western allies, to buy an anti–missile defense system from a Chinese company that was on the U.S. sanctions list on charges of violating the embargo on Iran?

The decision was never finalized due to reactions from NATO members, but now that the embargos against Iran will be lifted, why not push for it, the Chinese might wonder.

Never mind the fact that, just as Erdoğan will be holding talks,  NATO will held an emergency meeting in Brussels upon a request from Ankara. This is Turkey, they might think. Consistency is not the main characteristic of its foreign policy.