On the world economic map, Turkey and China are two large economies that have risen almost at the same time: China is the member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) while Turkey is the member of the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey).

In the era of global economic integration, China and Turkey are striving for a joint economic development goal, placing the differences between the two sides in a secondary position.

As the relationship between Turkey and the US has become increasingly tense since 2018, the Turkish government has stepped up efforts to cooperate with China.

Talk with Turkish Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Mehmet Cahit Turhan in an interview.

Minister Turhan
Photo: Turkish Minister of Transport & Infrastructure Mehmet Cahit Turhan.

Host: What were the new agreements and cooperative projects between China and Turkey during the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation?

Turhan: We have communicated with our Chinese counterparts on important cooperative projects in transport, telecommunication, energy, and other areas.

We have discussed projects including the subsea tunnel in Istanbul, intercity transportation and subway projects in cities. A number of Chinese companies have shown a keen interest in them.

But I can’t reveal more before signing the framework agreement.

It’s worth mentioning that at the business level, we have signed a cooperative agreement with China’s ZTE on Istanbul’s new airport project.

Chinese telecommunication companies Huawei and ZTE have set up branches in Turkey and have made tremendous contributions to our country’s communication infrastructure construction.

In the future, we would like to invite Huawei and ZTE to further invest in Turkey, as we have started 5G construction. I think the two companies can play a very important role in this process.

Host: The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Turkey’s Middle Corridor (MC) advocate the interconnectivity and integration of Eurasia. How do you evaluate the compatibility of the BRI and MC? What are the difficulties?

Turhan: The BRI initiated by China aims to build a network that can connect Asia, the Middle East, Europe and beyond.

The MC also intends to connect Europe, Central Asia, and China through Turkey and the Caspian Sea.

Therefore, they have the same goal and can complement each other. Turkey has paid attention to the BRI since it was first proposed and we believe that Turkey can become a pivotal country in the initiative due to our geographic location.

Turkey’s cross-country railway, which connects Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, has been put into operation.

We have invested in transport programs, including highways, bridges, and ports. We want to turn Turkey into a regional logistics hub.

Although there are still some difficulties in terms of geographical conditions and infrastructure to connect the BRI and MC, I think these issues can be solved.

Host: On infrastructure, how many new projects in Turkey do you want Chinese companies to participate in?

Turhan: We have many cooperative projects with China under the BRI framework in infrastructure.

We have a wide range of cooperation in high-speed railways, highways, subways and sea transportation projects in Istanbul as well as ports projects in the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea.

A Chinese company has won the bid to construct a section of a high-speed railway from Ankara to Istanbul. We hope there will be more than one high-speed railway being built by Chinese companies.

Turkish government attaches great importance to upgrading railway routes and the building of the new high-speed railway.

Over the past 15 years, we have invested about $25 billion in the railway system.

Turkey is the eighth country in the world to own high-speed trains. Our goal is to build a 25,030-kilometre railway network by 2030. So there is a huge potential for Chinese companies in railways.

We also plan to build large-scale projects in chemical engineering, quality testing, and natural gas reserves, where we welcome Chinese investors.

Host: Turkey once announced a plan to construct a 2,000-kilometre high-speed rail line from Kars in the east to Edirne in the west and hoped to gain support from Chinese companies.

But it’s reported that the two sides haven’t reached a consensus on financing. How is this project going? If a Chinese company doesn’t pay in full as the Turkish government once expected, would Turkey accept it?

Turhan: The high-speed rail line between Edirne and Kars carries great significance to Turkey’s MC plan.

We hope this project will begin as soon as possible. Turkey and China are still negotiating the framework agreement on the project and we hope to achieve a good result within the shortest time.

As for sources of financing, Turkey is still considering other financial options since the final agreement hasn’t been signed. We are considering loans and financing channels both inside and outside Turkey.

Host: Turkey has been making a push to develop ports and the shipping industry in recent years. What is the potential of this industry? What are the opportunities for Chinese companies?

Turhan: Turkey is a maritime country and about 87 percent of the country’s international trade is accomplished through shipping. Shipping brings in $8.9 billion a year, or 1.04 percent of GDP. Turkey’s merchant fleet ranks 15th in the world, with a total load of about 27 million tons. The 183 ports in Turkey processed 460 million tons of cargoes in 2018.

Turkey is now expanding investment in ports which will further strengthen Turkey’s current status as a shipping transit centre. The ports in the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea will all contribute significantly to enhancing Turkey’s regional and intercontinental transport capabilities.

We hope these ports will become part of China’s “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” Initiative. In fact, Chinese companies have already participated in the upgrading and operations of some ports.

Host: China’s overseas projects have encountered some scepticism over their transparency and “debt trap” accusations. How do you evaluate the operations of Chinese projects in your country?

Turhan: Turkey is a country ruled by law. Whether it is a Chinese company’s or other countries’ investment, we operate based on agreements signed after discussions between the two sides. So far, foreign companies have not experienced any serious problems in their investment and operations in Turkey.

Chinese companies have cooperated with Turkey in various industries, including infrastructure and mining, for many years. We think these projects are doing extremely well, and we have great confidence in the Chinese companies’ operation in Turkey.

As for “debt trap” accusations, I believe that interested countries have the right to negotiate financial cooperation with not only China, but the rest of the world, and then put them into practice under appropriate conditions. At this point, I think the malicious attacks against China are meaningless.