Turkey and China have expressed their desire to expand cooperation through concrete steps under the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) which is at the core of their growing economic partnership.
Turkey, a geographical bridge linking Europe and Asia, is a keen and ready participant in BRI which spans more than 70 countries and regions.
Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.
In a recent report launched by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Turkey was highlighted as a priority country with rapidly growing pipeline projects.
A concrete investment by this bank in Turkey is the Salt Lake underground gas storage facility project, the second phase of which was launched on July 29 and is expected to be completed by 2023.
As the world’s largest storage project under construction, the joint venture between China’s CAMC Engineering and Turkish IC Ictas Construction will increase the storage capacity of the underground gas storage facility to 5.4 billion cubic meters by 2023, according to Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez.
Meanwhile, more than 100 Chinese companies will attend the Izmir International Fair as China is the partner country in the 88th edition scheduled for September 6 to 14, according to an official from the Chinese Embassy in Ankara.
“We see indications of an improving Chinese-Turkish dialogue and cooperation,” Selcuk Colakoglu, Director of the Ankara based Turkish Center for Asia-Pacific Studies.
The scholar pointed out that both Ankara and Beijing have indicated that their cooperation under the BRI framework, which is the core of their common vision for the future, should progress with more concrete projects.
Turkey wants China to help build its third nuclear power plant in the northwest and Chinese companies to invest and improve Turkey’s network of high speed railways, he noted.
“All of this indicate that there is great room for improvement in strengthening economic and commercial relations. We will see more bilateral cooperation in these fields in the coming period,” Colakoglu said.
Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Beijing on July 2, an important indicator of a progressing partnership, Turkish and Chinese foreign ministers, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Wang Yi, met in Bangkok on the sidelines of a regional meeting on Tuesday, where they pledged to deepen strategic mutual trust and discussed energy and investment issues.
Ankara is particularly keen to adhere to the BRI through the Middle Corridor, the plan for a transport corridor that would link Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as part of the link between Beijing and London.
“Turkey is looking to embrace the opportunities offered by the BRI. We give a special importance to this initiative because it also enhances social and human bonds between partner countries,” a Senior Diplomatic Source said on condition of anonymity.
“We have already seen investment projects being realised in key areas, such as transportation, logistics, energy, and financial services. As the BRI moves forward, we may see more investments coming from Asia and we expect foreign direct investment from China as well,” the source said.
Colakoglu said two Chinese banks, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Bank of China, were granted banking licenses in Turkey in recent years, leading to easier and effective transactions between the two countries.
“There is great potential in the China-Turkey relations under the BRI. We also intend to build awareness about investment opportunities in many parts and commercial fields in Turkey and we believe some areas are under-utilised,” said the diplomatic source.
The trade between China and Turkey reached 21.55 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, making China the second largest trading partner of Turkey.
Sector representatives say 30 million Chinese tourists will travel to Europe in the five-year medium term and Turkey wants to attract as many Chinese visitors as possible.
“When contact between the peoples is strengthened, it also triggers an improvement of political and economic relations between their respective nations,” Colakoglu noted.