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East Asia

China and Turkey Aspiring for the Greatness in the World

Wang Li

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Authors: Wang Li & Fan Yao-tian

During his 2-day visit to China (August 2-3), Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey informed the media that the two countries should take the consensus between the two heads of state as guidance to push forward the development of their strategic cooperative partnership.

Yes, over the past decades, China and Turkey, although separated by the Eurasia and differences in their cultures, have developed close ties through the win- win working relationship. They are the members of the G-20 which will be playing more significant role than the G-7 in the world affairs. Now China and Turkey agreed to integrate the “Belt & Road” initiative with the “Middle Corridor” project in terms of practical cooperation in the fields such as anti-terrorism, regional stability and global climate change. Chinese FM Wang Yi reiterated that China firmly supports Turkey’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty, security and stability. And Turkish FM stressed that Turkey continues firmly and powerfully adhering to the one-China policy; and therefore, it will not allow any activities to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in its territory. Both sides vow to continuously take care of reciprocal core interest and enhance political mutual trust.

This is not an easy task for historically China and Turkey needed each other only in a symbolic way. During the heyday of the Cold War, the two sides were in effect within the opposed camps and even had engaged fiercely in the Korean War. A new era was not opened until the year of 1971 when the two countries extended diplomatic recognition to each other in the wake of President Nixon’s visit to Beijing. Yet, the bilateral relations between China and Turkey were still less important in view of the latter’s ties with the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Britain, all of them were the nuclear powers and the permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the mutual needs were still low in a practical sense. The significant changes took place in the 1980s when China undertook the overall reforms and openness policy with a view of a peaceful rise in the current world system, evidently dominated by the U.S. and its allies. It requires that China works intelligently and consistently to promote its new image over the world, in which Turkey is believed as a strong military power and an influential player in the Middle East and later in the Central Asian states after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Given this, the significance of Sino-Turkish relationship can be understood from two perspectives as follows.

First is the consideration of their core interest in terms of sovereignty, security and stability. It is reported that thousands of Uighurs have fled China in recent years to seek asylum in Turkey, with many traveling on to Syria to join Islamic militant groups. According to what a German—Afghan officer serving in the NATO troops observed that fairly speaking now hundreds of Uighurs, if not far more, are believed to have joined the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front while others have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group or sided with smaller militant factions in the Syrian conflict.

China has legitimate concerns about such battle-hardened extremists returning to their homeland—Xinjiang—to wage violence in pursuit of their goal of establishing an independent “East Turkestan” and recruiting more Uighurs to join ISIS’ ranks. In 2016, ISIS released its first propaganda video with Uighur subtitles directly targeting China. Considering this challenge, Chinese top leaders accept that maintaining a respectful dialogue with their counterparts in Ankara on the Uighur row is wise in terms of geopolitics and its expanding trade globally. Meanwhile Turkey is now increasingly unsettled by Central Asian and Uighur fighters from ISIS set on spilling blood at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub. There is no doubt the two countries have diverse opinions on the issues of Uighur, yet have recently warmed amid a broader political realignment. Since China, Russia and Turkey have enhanced their consultation and cooperation in the case of Syria while Erdogan has pulled away from the orbit of the EU directives amid disputes over human rights and other issues. In return, China has expressed openness toward Turkey joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security regime comprised of Russia, the central Asian states and now India and Pakistan as well. With all the vicissitudes, FM Cavusoglu frankly said in Beijing that Turkey regarded China’s security as akin to its own and fully appreciated all the actions China has taken in combating the Islamic State group as well as reaching a political settlement in the Syrian War. Here is the point that the Turkish government under President Erdogan would root out militants plotting against Beijing, signaling closer cooperation against suspected Uighur militants hailing from China’s far west who have long been a sore point in bilateral relation.

Second is the shared desire to be great powers in the new century. As China has put forward the “Belt & Road Initiative” as the century’s project linking it to Europe, Turkey and Russia have backed some major Chinese initiatives to develop infrastructure spanning the Eurasian continent that were initially shunned by Western powers. Turkey is regarded as the key player in the Middle East and the Central Asia as well. Chinese FM Wang Yi hailed the visit of his Turkish counterpart, speaking that “deepening the collaboration on anti-terror and region’s security is the most central part of the two countries’ relationship.”

That may be a small price for Turkey to pay given the benefits it expects from a better relationship with China, the second largest economy now. Turkey has expressed a keen interest in the BRI, enticed by prospects of a high-speed railway and a nuclear plant, among other projects that China has pledged to build in Turkey. But Beijing has hinted that such projects are in part conditional on a more China- friendly security policy. President Xi talked frankly in a meeting with Erdogan at the Belt and Road Summit in May: “In order to promote even greater development of relations, China and Turkey must respect and give consideration to each other’s core concerns, and deepen security and counter-terrorism cooperation.” In other words, Turkey may opine China’s suggestion on security issues if it is serious to have a more favorable economic relationship.

Traditionally, China was not a major trade partner of Turkey, but the bilateral relations between the two have grown significantly since Turkey’s ruling Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Economically, Turkey already represents an important market for China. By 2010 China was the third largest source of Turkey’s imports, the previous decade seeing trade between the two countries rising more than 12 fold to a value of 20 billion dollars. The signing of Strategic Agreement in Ankara (2016) included a target of 50 billion dollars of mutual trade by 2015 rising to 100 billion dollars by 2020. In addition, China’s global investment and acquisition strategies always ranked as Beijing’s top priority when it came to defining relations with Turkey, which surely creates more opportunities for stronger cooperation between the two countries in the years to come. Ultimately, Turkey and China’s deepening economic links are illustrative of Ankara’s quest to pivot east and Beijing’s drive to invest in an important country that serves as a hub for transcontinental energy and trade routes. Despite pressure from some members of a domestic constituency in Turkey, the two countries are likely to strengthen the bilateral ties without the Uighur issue derailing such progress. Clearly, it is in the area of foreign investment and joint production that Turkey’s new strategic partnership with China could really shine.

Some scholars like to argue that Turkey’s overtures to China and Russia as well may be more than idle flirtation or empty anti-Western posturing. Since the failed coup attempt of 2016, Turkey has been looking east for new partners in order to decrease its dependence on European allies. Turkey is still unable to cope with the issue of East Turkestan and the plight of the area’s security. Yet, Russia has played the most influential role in Turkey’s strategic pivot. China also factors into Ankara’s eastward shift. It is true that the ruling AKP party in Turkey has different factions, some of them nationalists who want to inflame tensions with China over Uighurs, and other pragmatic members who want to maintain good relations with China believing that the Uyghur issue is being abused to spoil relations between China and Turkey by the United States. Turkey has had to follow its own country’s interests first with a pragmatic approach to foreign affairs.

No matter how you would like to interpret the relationship between China and Turkey, one thing is assured that both sides were the ancient empires dictating the rules in each realm, and both were the underdogs at the mercy of the Western powers in modern history; and now both powers have aspired to struggle for the greatness in the era of globalization. Given this, China and Turkey are aware of the results: standing together is much stronger than walking alone.

(*) Fan Yao-tian, MA in Finance and a free-lance writer on international affairs

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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East Asia

China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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East Asia

Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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