Turkey-China ties record an uptick as cooperation over trade and tourism deepens

(File) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they attend a signing ceremony, ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on 13 May 2017. AP

Although the economic relationship between Turkey and China remained stagnant for many years, recent developments have led to increased cooperation in many areas including tourism and transportation. Diplomatic ties between China and Turkey completed 50 years in 2021 which were first established in August 1971.

Erdogan visited China many times

Relations between Ankara and Beijing reached the level of strategic cooperation in 2010. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited China in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019 within the scope of the relationship that have intensified in the last 15 years. Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Erdogan came together at the G20 Antalya summit in 2015, G20 Summit in Hangzhou in 2016, the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg and G20 meeting in Buenos Aires in 2018 and the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019.

Trade volume was $24 billion in 2020

China is one of Turkey’s important trade partners in East Asia. While the trade volume between the two countries was around $24 billion in 2020, however, there is a decline in trade deficit in favour of China. The bilateral trade volume between China and Turkey was $27.7 billion in 2016, $26.3 billion in 2017, $23.6 billion in 2018 and $21.08 billion in 2019. Notably, trade deficit in favour of China has decreased by about 7 per cent in the last five years.

Chinese tourists flocking to Turkey

Efforts to attract a greater number of Chinese visitors to Turkey are underway with the goal of reaching one million arrivals. Encouragingly, recent years have seen a positive trend, as evidenced by the increasing number of Chinese tourists to Turkey, with figures rising from 167,570 in 2016 to 426,344 in 2019, which demonstrates the growing interest in Turkey as a destination among Chinese travellers. In 2017, the number of Chinese tourists in Turkey was 2,47,277 and in 2018 it was at 3,94,109. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant adverse impact on the global tourism industry in 2020, including in Turkey. Nevertheless, there is an optimistic outlook that the sector will rebound resoundingly in the post-pandemic period.

Developing BRI cooperation

Cooperation between Turkey and China is developing in the Belt and Road Initiative project, which aims to revive the historical Silk Road as announced by President Xi in 2013. In this context, the Agreement on the Harmonization of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Middle Corridor Initiative was signed in 2015 in order to align the “Middle Corridor” project proposed by Turkey with China’s “Belt and Road” initiative between the two countries. Turkey has completed the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project with the aim of realising the Belt and Road and the Trans-Caspian-Middle Corridor project, which is of critical importance for the project.

The first export train to China via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which forms an important leg of the Middle Corridor, departed from Istanbul on 4 December, 2020 and reached the city of Xi’an in the central part of China on 19 December, 2020. The train, which travelled 8,693 kilometres in total carried white goods to China.

The writer is a correspondent and an author who works in Turkish media. He graduated from Istanbul University, Faculty of Communication. He is interested in foreign policy issues, especially in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Atlantic and Eurasia. Views expressed are personal.

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