The Significance of Sino-Turkish Relations

Among the dynamics reshaping Eurasia, the "world continent" spanning from Europe to the Far East, the transformation of the Sino-Turkish relations does not get the attention it deserves.
A focus on this relationship from a Western perspective presupposes a double de-centering, not only the observation of non Western powers but also the consideration of their interactions, an effort which partly explains this geopolitical blind spot.

The differences between the two countries appear, at first glance, considerable, China's territory is more than ten times larger than Turkey's space, the population is in a ratio of 20 to 1 and the Chinese GDP is more than 10 times bigger than the Turkish economy, but if one takes into account the sovereign countries composing the International Organization of Turkic Culture, TÜRKSOY -- Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- the asymmetry between the Turkic sphere and the Chinese world is substantially reduced.

Moreover, there are striking similarities between the two members of the G 20. Both countries share indelible imperial memories -- the Yuan (1271 - 1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911) were contemporary with the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923), and the sumptuous Chinese porcelain collection of the Topkapı Palace, the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for four centuries, illustrates the ancient interactions between the two Empires.
In another subtle reference to the Chinese historical presence by the Bosphorus, Orhan Pamuk's masterpiece, My Name Is Red (1998), begins by the presentation of the Sultan's miniaturist Master Elegant Effendi who "painted scalloped Chinese-style clouds."

If one does not often associate Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the two founders of Republic have nonetheless a lot in common, in face of decadent systems and Western imperialism they built two new nations, the Republic of China, established in 1912, and the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, they terminated obsolete regimes and, in a spirit of construction, put their peoples on the road of modernity.
The sequence of events inseparable from World War I leading to the end of the Ottoman Empire differs from the fall of the Qing Dynasty but Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People and Atatürk's thoughts as developed in what is known as The Speech (1927) are inspired by the same vision of cultural rebirth and national independence.

The two young Republics did not ignore each other. In 1924, in a discourse on Pan-Asianism delivered in Kobe, Sun Yat-sen observed: "At present Asia has only two independent countries, Japan in the East and Turkey in the West. In other words, Japan and Turkey are the Eastern and Western barricades of Asia."

Sun Yat-sen certainly appreciated the importance of Mustafa Kemal's achievement but the new Turkey was also aware of China's centrality, it was at the end of Atatürk's life that the sinologist Wolfram Eberhard was invited to teach at Ankara University, an institution established by the founding father of the Republic, within a decade he contributed to create Turkish modern sinology establishing the basis for a better understanding between the two countries.

After 1949 the Cold War separated Mao's People's Republic and Ankara, the Turkish Brigade fought in Korea under the United Nations command from 1950 to 1953, and under its third President, Mahmut Celâl Bayar, Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952.
Despite the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two powers in 1971, the Uyghur issue, a Turkic ethnic group living within China in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, complicated relations already characterized by ideological antagonism, but in the post USSR Eurasia, the two countries found new ground for convergence.

Last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Ürümqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a historical visit which signaled that both sides had reached an agreement on the idea that Xinjiang could be a bridge and not a point of friction between the Chinese and the Turkic worlds. Erdoğan's emotional stop in Xinjiang followed Xi Jinping's visit in Turkey, an occasion for the then vice President of the PRC to sign for $4.3 billion of Sino-Turkish business deals.

The potential for the development of Sino-Turkish trade is evident and the recent decision by Ankara to favor a Japanese-French consortium to build a second nuclear plant while China was a bidder -- a $ 22 billion contract -- does not question the shared long term commitment to deepen the Sino-Turkish connection.

In 2012 the bilateral trade was $ 19 billion -- China is Turkey's second import partner after Russia -- it will reach $ 100 billion before 2020 with more cooperation in the construction of infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, but also possible business collaboration in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

If the development of the Sino-Turkish relations can be interpreted as another example of impactful South-South relations within an increasingly multipolar world, it reveals its full significance in a Eurasian geopolitical context.

To maintain overall Eurasian stability it is vital that a reemerging China, the global Middle Country, and a rising Turkey, the transcontinental pivot at the intersection of the Muslim world, Europe and Russia, do not collide, but Sino-Turkish strategic synergy can be also a generator of growth and security on the "world continent."

In this perspective, Ankara's becoming this year a "dialogue partner" of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a constructive step, as a NATO member and a European Union (EU) candidate country, Turkey acts not only as a bridge between the EU and the SCO but also between NATO and the SCO.

In his seminal Grand Chessboard (1997), Zbigniew Brzezinski reflects on the relations between the American power and Eurasia, he argues that if a chaotic Eurasia would constitute a threat to the American interests, Washington has also to make sure that none of the Eurasian players dominates the "world continent" for the U.S. would be at risk to become peripheral.

In other words, the U.S. needs to be involved in the Eurasian affairs to create an order congenial with its interests but on "the Grand Chessboard" it behaves in accordance with the spirit of the old doctrine "divide et impera," divide and rule.

However, the patient construction of a more cohesive Eurasia bringing always closer the European Union, the Turkic sphere, Russia and China should not be perceived as a strategy to marginalize or diminish the American power, but as a source of global security and a guarantee for a better balance between the New World and Eurasia.

David Gosset is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Shanghai, Beijing & Accra, and founder of the Euro-China Forum.