Turkey-China relations have had many ups and downs between 1949 and the present day, but both still have numerous mutual interests to cooperate on. China has occupied a strong position in the world economy. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the most significant indicators of its rise. The BRI has pushed Beijing to establish good economic and political cooperation networks between different regions of the world. Turkey occupies one of the most important geo-economic and geostrategic positions for these cooperative networks. Turkey is a key player in ensuring the success and effectiveness of the BRI.
No doubt, China’s BRI offers significant opportunities for Turkey because both nations need stable economic, energy, security and strategic partnerships that will facilitate development. Turkey signed the BRI memorandum of understanding in 2015 with China and aligned its "Middle Corridor." The corridor, formally known as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), indicates Turkey’s goal of developing connectivity with China via the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The Middle Corridor trade route project links China to Europe via Turkey through highways and railways. Turkey believes that the corridor is a complement to China’s BRI, under which both nations can develop win-win cooperation.
Turkey and China are ready to integrate the Middle Corridor and the BRI. As pointed out by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, "The Middle Corridor ... lies at the heart of the BRI, and Turkey will continue to work with Chinese friends to integrate the Middle Corridor into the BRI." Chinese President Xi Jinping also stated that, "The two sides will promote synergy between joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Middle Corridor project of Turkey."
Many scholars believe that since Turkey accepted the BRI, it has witnessed important infrastructure investments from China, which has led to better a understanding between the two states. In this joint initiative, Turkey and China are working hand in hand for a common target, which is to boost economic and trade relations.
It is not only the BRI that is helping national infrastructure projects. There are several infrastructure projects financed by Ankara within the domain of the Middle Corridor, such as the 1915 Çanakkale Bridge and the Edirne-Kars high-speed rail, which are under construction. But Ankara is looking for more Chinese investments in transportation, mining and energy.
There are also critics of the Middle Corridor and the BRI. Some scholars have expressed their belief that China will never allow Turkey to overlap the Middle Corridor with the BRI. Others believe that Turkey is falling into the Chinese "debt trap." Ankara has a long history of good relations with the West. Most Western nations, including the United States, view the BRI as a strategic move by China. This may pose a new challenge for Turkey to overcome. Critics may have forgotten that Ankara always follows its national interest and, as an independent sovereign state, it has faced many challenges and successfully managed them. Turkey and China are ready to deepen all-round cooperation to further advance bilateral ties. And the BRI is, without any doubt, an endeavor to forge closer relations between both nations.
In the recent visit to China, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu appreciated the positive role of Turkey-China economic, trade and investment cooperation and interconnection in enhancing Turkey's economic strength.
During their talks, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, "China values Turkey's unique role in regional and international affairs, and is willing to strengthen multilateral coordination and cooperation, jointly safeguard true multilateralism, promote the democratization of international relations and safeguard the common interests of emerging market economies." Both diplomats agreed that Ankara and Beijing should be committed to enhancing mutual trust and support. The two sides should support each other in safeguarding their respective sovereignty, security and development interests. The BRI is a long-term commitment that requires time to see results. Due to COVID-19, the world is facing several financial crises. Likewise, Ankara's financial resources have become limited and it would be advantageous for Turkey if it continued to calibrate its visions on the BRI with those of China's.
Whether one agrees with the strategy or not, the Middle Corridor and the BRI have created an important momentum in Turkey-China relations. If they keep the same momentum going, it will boost their development, which may lead to new highlights in their bilateral ties.