Considering Turkey’s geostrategic role and changing global dynamics, it is not possible for Turkey to avoid building closer diplomatic and economic ties with China, the Turkish ambassador in Beijing said.

In an interview, Emin Önen commented on developing bilateral relations and cooperation between Turkey and China. Önen said that it is not possible to evaluate Turkey’s foreign policy from a one-sided perspective.

“We have historical and cultural relations with many countries in the Asia region. We, as a country, have many features that make us European, Asian and Middle Eastern,” he added.

Pointing to the importance of Turkey’s geographical location, he said that Turkey is a country that serves as a central location providing easy access to many countries from both West and East.

“All these factors make it obligatory for us to conduct a multidimensional foreign policy rather than a single-dimensional foreign policy,” he added. Underlining there is a perception created that Turkey is rediscovering China and Asia in its foreign policy, Önen said that this does not reflect the truth.

“We, as a country, are representatives of a historical civilisation having thousands of years of history, and we have thousands of years of historical connections with Asia,” he added.

Pointing out that Turks were conducting trade with China hundreds of years before the discovery of America, he said that the region was perceived as the Far East because the West imposed the idea and wanted us to see this region from their perspective.

“However, China is not a place geographically farther than the U.S. to us. Also, Western countries, which express their concerns over Turkey-China rapprochement, have had much closer ties and economic relations with China and the whole Asian region for centuries,” he said.

As a result of developed relations between the two countries, seven minister-level visits from Turkey to China in 2018 in addition to the Parliament chairman’s visit. From China to Turkey, three minister-level and three vice minister-level visits took place.

These visits led to many activities in various areas including politics, economics, trade and culture. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to China on July 2 initiated a new process in bilateral relations that reached record-high levels with intense contacts.

Önen also pointed to changing global dynamics and said: “Now, everyone in the world accepts the fact that the political and economic balance of power in the globe has been shifting from the West to the East. Under these circumstances, we should build comprehensive relations with China, and the all of Asia, by breaking the biases.”

Underlining that China, the second largest economy in the world, is expected to become the largest economy in 10 years, Önen said that Turkey cannot be indifferent to this and added: “Increasing our $29 billion dollar trade volume with China to $50 billion by reducing the trade deficit in favour of Turkey is our prior target.”

Another important issue Önen commented on was the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project and its impact on economic and diplomatic ties between two countries.

OBOR, an initiative by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, has become a giant project that involves more than 100 countries whose economies represent more than $23 trillion.

Önen said that since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, Turkey has been a supporter of the initiative.

“Actually, our country’s experience and determination regarding connectedness and infrastructure investments trace their roots back before the announcement of the Belt & Road Initiative.

Since the mid-1990s, we led the connectedness in our region with projects such as the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline, Baku–Tbilisi– Erzurum Natural Gas Pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line,” he said.

“Turkey is part of the China-Central Asia-Western Asia corridor that was planned in the Belt and Road Initiative,” Önen said and added that this corridor matches up with the Middle Corridor Initiative. He reminded that Turkey and China signed a deal in 2015 to make the OBOR compatible with the Middle Corridor.

Thus, the Middle Corridor initiative led by Turkey is key for OBOR. Starting from Turkey, from Georgia to Azerbaijan, from there crossing the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and then to other Central Asia republics, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, the Middle Corridor is one of the most important components of the OBOR project.

Önen also said that Chinese companies have special interest in infrastructure projects in Turkey as part of OBOR and added: “In sum, I think that the future of Turkey-China relations within the context of OBOR is very bright. I believe that two historical civilisations locating on the historical Silk Road can make great contribution to the connectedness of Eurasia.”

Regarding the future of Turkey-China relations, he said that although diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1971, Turkey and China are two historical civilisations sharing hundreds of years of history.

“Bilateral relations based on mutual respect and collective gain increasingly develop and become more deeply rooted,” he finally said.