(Photo: Global Times / Bai Yunyi)
US-Turkey ties have soured recently and Washington increased tariffs and imposed other sanctions on Turkey. How will Turkey cope with the escalating tension? Will Turkey shift its strategic orientation from the West to the East? Global Times reporter Bai Yunyi (GT) talked with Abdulkadir Emin Onen (Onen), Turkish Ambassador to China, on these issues.
GT: What do you think are the underlying causes of the escalated tension between Turkey and the US?
Onen: Turkey, as a founding member of the United Nations, as a member of NATO and a candidate for EU membership, has honored its obligations over decades in the international field to uphold peace, stability and the rule of law. One has to acknowledge different current challenges Turkey faces in its region. The war in Syria, security threats from terrorist groups like IS, PKK terrorist organization and its extension in Syria called YPG, as well as the humanitarian situation of millions of refugees from Syria poses a risk to the stability of our region.
Moreover, Gülenist Terror Organisation (FETÖ), which orchestrated a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, resulting in 251 civilian deaths and thousands of casualties, has been a serious threat to us.
In this context, Turkey seeks cooperation of its allies and friends to eliminate those security threats and to take under control forces which drive those risks.
However, Turkey has not found the required level of cooperation from some of its allies in face of present challenges. The destabilizing effect of armed groups such as YPG in Syria requires utmost attention. On the other hand, FETÖ elements should not find safe haven in western democracies.
We expect immediate action from US authorities to extradite Fettullah Gulen from US soil who is the mastermind of FETÖ to face trial in Turkey and to prevent its activities, which are often hidden under the shield of charity organizations in the US.
Turkey and the US are currently experiencing rocky relations following Washington's imposition of sanctions on two government ministers for not releasing American pastor Andrew Brunson, who faces terrorism-related charges in Turkey. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump ramped up his attack on Turkey by doubling US tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel imports. Like China's response to the trade war in retaliation to US tariffs, Turkey also increased tariffs on several US products, including alcohol, tobacco and cars.
Moreover, we all witnessed that our currency Turkish lira has been targeted by US President Donald Trump himself via his tweet. This was clear attack on the Turkish economy!
The US demands regarding the American pastor's release were made in total disregard to the independence of the judiciary in Turkey. This is a case which will be decided by the court on its own merits, and it should not have been made a reason for imposing economic sanctions against Turkey.
GT: What specific measures would Turkey take to cope with US sanctions and domestic economic impact?
Onen: In handling the difficulties with the US, we maintain a calm but determined stance. While we keep our contact channels open with the US side, we also focus on economic measures to overcome the current situation.
Recently, Turkish Minister of Finance and Treasury Berat Albayrak announced on August 10 the new economic model, which involves a package of 35 billion Turkish lira for measures reducing expenses and increasing income. This model calls for actions to be taken to promote Turkey from a mid-level income country to high-level income, increasing confidence in Turkish lira, preserving the autonomy of the Central Bank, continuing structural reforms in economy, controlling expenditure of administrative bodies to ensure optimum use of resources, tax reform, an effective management of investments and expenses.
Moreover, we also keep in close contact with our friends and counterparts while we implement the aforementioned measures. I should also mention that in the beginning of August, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced short-term "100-day action plan" to be executed under the new presidential system. About 400 projects will be completed with this action plan and most of them focused on economic projects. These goals include promoting tourism sector, and we count on a significant increase in the number of tourists from China to Turkey. Our country is determined to continue investments in numerous sectors while diversifying the borrowing instruments, for instance with Chinese bonds.
Throughout these measures and action plans our goal is to maintain confidence in Turkish economy and preserve favorable conditions to bring foreign investors. Chinese companies and investors are particularly welcome to do business in Turkey.
GT: Would Turkey adopt more tit-for-tat measures if the US upgrades sanctions?
Onen: Yes, of course.
GT: Are you prepared to send officials to talk with the US side?
Onen: Yes, of course. Actually, there are Turkish delegations which have already visited the US for negotiations.
GT: How do you evaluate or define the current Turkish-US relationship?
Onen: In international relations there might be always ups and downs between the countries, but important thing is even during the turbulences countries should respect each other. We should admit that relations between allies may go through different phases over time in face of contemporary challenges depending on how countries perceive them. The important point is to make genuine efforts to understand each other. Turkey remains a reliable and strong partner within the alliances of which it is a member. But it requests its partners to take into account Turkey's concerns at critical junctures.
GT: You mean what's happening between Turkey and the US is a "friction between allies?"
Onen: Yes, you may call it this way. Our diplomatic channels are still open and there are ongoing negotiations. We would like to solve this problem through diplomatic instruments.
GT: Will the tensions between Turkey and the US impact Ankara's stance on NATO and the EU?
Onen: Turkey's current problems with the US are not related to NATO membership and EU negotiations. Turkey is crucial member of the NATO and determined to continue its negotiations with the EU to reach its full membership goal. Tension with the US means tension with the US. Nothing else! It doesn't affect Turkey's bilateral relations with other countries and its membership of international organizations.
GT: President Erdogan said he would like to form "a new alliance" with China, Russia and Iran to resist economic pressures created by the Trump administration. What does this "new alliance" relationship exactly mean?
Onen: President Erdogan is a visionary leader who values Turkish-Chinese cooperation. Our bilateral relations have improved steadily and turned into a strategic partnership in 2010. President Erdogan and President Xi Jinping have met five times in recent years. The latest of these meetings took place in Johannesburg last month at the BRICS Summit. Our leaders share the view that there is a vast potential for cooperation between the two countries.
Indeed, Turkey has shown active interest in the Belt and Road initiative. President Erdogan took part in the Belt and Road forum last year in Beijing. Turkey champions Middle Corridor initiative whereby China will be connected to Europe via Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Caspian Sea, Caucasus region and Turkey. Moreover, Turkey also promotes Caravanserai Project, which fosters increased cooperation among customs authorities of the Middle Corridor countries. Turkey has completed a joint railway project with Azerbaijan and Georgia, which connects Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. This will be a crucial link within the overall Middle Corridor project. Turkey has also been negotiating with the Chinese side on high-speed railway system to run between easternmost and westernmost cities of Turkey. All these projects are planned to connect with the Belt and Road initiative.
We observe a steady increase in Chinese direct investment and a growing number of Chinese firms doing business in Turkey. Major Chinese companies, including Huawei, Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Aviation Industry Corporation of China and China North Industries Corporation, have invested in Turkey in recent years. Turkey, which is 17th largest economy worldwide and the sixth largest in Europe, would like to host more of these investors, since it holds the unique advantage of geographical convenience as it is located between Asia and Europe, and provides incentive packages to foreign investors.
Even though our diplomatic relations with China started in the 20th century, our relations in trade, culture etc go back many centuries, even going back to ancient Silk Road times.
Regarding our relations with Iran and Russia I can say that we are neighboring countries and our relations with them go back hundreds even thousands of years. Turkey is also in close contact with Russia on a number of important projects in the field of energy and other sectors. Central Asian countries, Middle Eastern countries are likewise counterparts of Turkey.
This trend shows Turkey's choice for working with multiple actors and promoting political and economic relations with them.
GT: Does it imply Turkey would shift its strategic orientation from the West to the East? In other words, is Ankara really interested in replacing its traditional partnerships, or it just wants to teach Washington a lesson?
Onen: Turkey does not consider this array of developing relations with China and other countries to replace its existing ties with the US or the EU. Turkey has the strength and confidence to place itself at a position where it can work with all these actors on an equal footing. Turkey does not favor one partner over another. Our goal in developing relations with China is to enjoy bilateral cooperation in a win-win setting. Chinese economy and market offers important opportunities for Turkey, and we want our business sector to further engage in markets in China. Hence, we encourage Turkish companies to take part in the Shanghai Import Expo on November 5-10. Turkey is ready to cooperate with all on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual benefit.
When Turkey bolsters its relations with China, Russia, Iran or any other country in addition to Western world, some claim that Turkey's axis is shifting. Let me remind one thing especially to the countries that claim Turkey's axis is shifting. Turkey was trading with China even before discovery of American continent.
Turkey is a country with strategic and trade importance and it has always been like this throughout history.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in China and inked deals worth billions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited China 11 times since she was elected. Britain has declared its relations with China as being in its "golden age." Do we not have to say Europe's axis is shifting to these countries? No one questioned them for any so-called "shift of strategic orientation." It is just natural for any country to try to foster business with a large economy like China. It is difficult to understand why Turkey faces questions on strategic shift when it pursues its interests and does similar agreements with China in a mutually beneficial way.
GT: Chinese people have mixed and complicated feelings about Turkey. While some think Turkey is a beautiful and nice country, others are disappointed with its attitude toward Xinjiang. What would you say about this?
Onen: I would like to thank you for asking this question. Due to geographical distance between our countries, people of Turkey and China don't know much about each other. In addition to this, Turkish people read the news stories about China through Western eyes and Chinese people read the news stories about China again from different sources. This is one of the reasons why there is misperception among some Chinese people about Turkey and it explains why some Chinese people have mixed and complicated feeling about Turkey.
I believe those people who believe Turkey is beautiful have visited Turkey. Tourism is one of the important elements to overcome this misperception and thanks to our efforts through Turkish Tourism Year in China, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Turkey has almost doubled this year. We expect that by the end of 2018 the number of Chinese tourists who visited Turkey will increase to around 400,000. I believe they will all come back with good feelings. Thus, people-to-people exchanges not only in tourism, but also in education and in other fields are important to overcome misperception.
There is a wide range of issues where the two countries have mutual interest to cooperate, and it would be very unfortunate to let this potential for cooperation be taken hostage by some prejudices. Whatever prejudices some may have in China regarding Turkey, such thoughts are proven unfounded thanks to close working relations between the two countries' authorities from the highest levels to technical levels. We discuss everything openly and seek solutions jointly. This open dialogue and mutual trust, which we enhanced in recent years between Turkey and China, allow us to work together on all topics, including Xinjiang. I believe peace and prosperity in Xinjiang will strengthen bilateral relations.