Is Turkey looking West but going East?

This study attempts to answer two basic yet pertinent questions: (1) Are Ankara's economic relations with China symmetrical/asymmetrical compared to its economic relations with the European Union? (2) Is it possible that the Turkish government could replace its economic relations with the EU by intensifying its relations with China? To this end, the advantages and disadvantages of Turkey's economic relations with China and the EU will be discussed.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article reflect only the author’s views on the subject. 


Without a doubt, China is the emerging economic power of the 21st century. It has become a global player and a strong competitor challenging the world economy. Today, China and the United States are the two global superpowers. While the EU and Japan are economic powers, they are not military powers. While Russia is a major military power, it is not economic power.

China’s historic ascent began in 1978 with the formulation of Deng Xiaoping’s "24-character strategy" for foreign policy, which championed the following principle: "Be good at keeping a low profile, never claim leadership." Therefore, as China arose on the world scene, it preferred to enter international politics as a "soft power."

Today, Beijing holds four fundamental foreign policy objectives:

(1) Beijing expects partner countries to recognize its "One China" principle, i.e., that Taiwan is a part of China. (2) China is committed to the recognition of its sovereignty and non-interference. It aims to reduce external pressure on internal reforms in order to defend against allegations of human rights violations; therefore, China is absolutely uninterested in whether its partners are democratic countries ruling by inclusive political and economic institutions. (3) Beijing recognizes U.S. security and military interests and the role of the United States in the Eastern Mediterranean. (4) China's foreign policy, which has traditionally focused on its own economic interests, is of paramount importance in relations with countries or regions.

As an inevitable consequence of China's economic miracle, China has, as expected, implemented its market-oriented development strategy worldwide and launched its economic offensive not only against U.S. and EU markets but also against the Indo-Pacific region and the Middle East, with added focus on the Eastern Mediterranean.

With regard to the Eastern Mediterranean, China has intensified its economic relations with Israel, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey by increasing its export volumes remarkably and investing heavily in port construction in these countries. China's economic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean lie predominantly in Turkey, simply because the country has relatively good economic potential and it is a member of the G-20. In addition, Turkey’s geopolitical situation in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean is more advantageous than other countries in the region due to its proximity to Europe.

Especially in the last decade, Sino-Turkish economic relations have expanded considerably and are based on economic rather than security cooperation. The main interest of the Chinese business society in Turkey stems from its large domestic market and profitable investment opportunities.

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