Burgeoning ties between Beijing and Ankara create an existential problem for the West

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It’s easy to blame all the troubles and changes in Turkey on the whims of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strongman largesse. Its foreign policy adventurism has led to growing regional and international isolation and a transactional relationship with foreign partners, including NATO and the EU. In addition, loyalists and patronage networks have become embedded in think tanks, corporations, and the foreign policy bureaucracy. Turkey’s foreign policy these days is mainly about keeping power at an increasing level economic and political cost for Turkish citizens.

Turkish foreign policy mandarins, however, have observed the changes in recent years and are aware that the international order is changing. Isolationist ‘America first’ rhetoric, combined with domestic US political apprehension over further military engagement in the Middle East, has limited the resolution of the alliance’s lingering problems. American-Turkish. The relationship has been deteriorate for some time and Turkey has sought support for its interests outside of its traditional Western-oriented relations.

With a spiraling economy and low poll numbers for the ruling coalition, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been seeking new partners to help it avert economic disaster and the possible end of his 20-year term after elections scheduled for 2023.

As the global community focuses on the war in Ukraine, there is another growing partnership of particular concern that must be viewed with caution: the growing closeness between Beijing and Ankara.

China has entered into strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Gulf States. While most of Beijing’s Middle East engagements have focused on hydrocarbon resources, Turkey’s relationship with China is unique. China and Turkey find themselves among a growing bloc of authoritarian countries in the global order, and Beijing sees Ankara as an important player in changing the rules-based order given its influence and strategic position between the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Eurasia.

China has played a vital role in Turkey’s foreign policy vision for some time. Since the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, its new executive presidential system and the eurasist The inclination of Turkish foreign policy has allowed Ankara to deepen its economic, security and military relations with Beijing. Chinese power presents a viable alternative for economic and political support for Turkey’s global ambitions, without the baggage that relations with Russia bring.

Turkey’s pursuit of ties with other regional power groupings in which China plays a definitive role, such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is an example of this inclination. These recalibrations signify the paradigm shifts within the Turkish political and foreign policy establishment during the two decades of AKP rule.

Closer relations with Turkey provide an opportunity for China to effectively engage and influence Middle East policy and expand its influence and economic integration in the Middle East. Mediterranean. Turkey-China ties can potentially affect Turkey’s relations with the EU, NATO and the United States more broadly, mainly because Turkey can use its relationship with China as a balance in what is become an increasingly transactional foreign policy with its traditional alliances.

NATO recently declared China is a strategic priority given the systemic challenges China poses to the rules-based order, its adversarial stance toward Taiwan, and its close ties to Russia. China responded by calling the NATO alliance a source of instability in the world and prone to Cold War thinking. Gaining influence over Turkey gives China favorable circumstances to undermine the solidarity within NATO that has arisen with the war in Ukraine. Turkey’s relations with Russia are a current example.

China lacks the strings attached to economic aid and human rights found in Turkey’s partnerships with the EU and US and is therefore very attractive to Erdogan for the maintenance of its authoritarian “new Turkey”. If Turkey were to embrace China, it could destabilize the influence of the EU, NATO and the United States on Turkey in terms of commitment to human rights, minority rights and halt the rise of authoritarian politics in Turkey and the wider Middle East region.

Turkey has been a leading voice for Uyghur rights around the world and was once a sanctuary for Uyghur dissidents in Xinjiang. As Turkey seeks economic benefits from China and gains a foothold with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, activists are being expelled and Turkey is no longer a safe haven.

The AKP could use Turkey’s position in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to defend Uyghur rights. Yet he has been reluctant to do so given the growing closeness between Ankara and Beijing. The timidity of the AKP means the West is losing one of the most prominent supporters of Uyghur rights in the Muslim world. Notwithstanding Albania contribution, it leaves countries like the United States and Australia to continue to speak out against China’s policies in Xinjiang.

Turkey’s opposition parties such as the Republican People’s Party and the Good Party have championed the Uyghur cause and could become a prominent voice against further Chinese integration if they win next year’s elections against Erdogan. and the AKP.

Militarily, Turkey’s domestic arms industry is slowly replacing its NATO military hardware requirements. Turkey’s indigenous Bayraktar TB2 drones played a vital role in the destruction of Russian military hardware and changed the dynamics of the Ukrainian conflict. Turkey may seek cheaper and more cost-effective military hardware or technology from China for its defense industry if relations with the United States and NATO continue to deteriorate. The growing military and security ties between Ankara and Beijing have encountered challenges, and Chinese military equipment is still not up to par with US and NATO equipment.

Ongoing economic difficulties, unorthodox economic policy and terrible polls could create the conditions for a change of government in 2023 in Turkey. Erdogan, however, will likely try to maintain power at all costs. Support from other authoritarian countries like Russia and China could lessen the backlash of any electoral manipulation or chicanery. A change of government is unlikely to undo years of mistrust between Turkish policymakers and its traditional NATO and US allies. It will be difficult to bring Turkey entirely back into the Western fold. It is therefore very likely that there will be a development and strengthening of ties between Ankara and Beijing.

With NATO’s focus on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and the EU and US dealing with their own authoritarian moves, the China-Turkey relationship will likely go unnoticed. However, stronger ties between China and Turkey pose a real existential problem to Western cohesion within NATO, EU stability, US power in the region and the balance of power. in Mediterranean. As China’s footprint grows in the Middle East and beyond, this developing relationship could become a problem sooner rather than later.

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