Xi Jinping, the expected next leader of China, is making a key visit to Turkey. While the emerging global powers aim at developing strategic ties, the crisis in Syria has offered a test case for their cooperation.
Turkey and China are seeking to expand their political and economic ties during a visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to Turkey's capital, Ankara, from Monday to Wednesday.
"Not only Turkey, but the whole world is trying to understand the ideas and vision of Xi Jinping, wondering whether he will adopt more moderate or tougher policies," Baris Adibelli, an associate professor at Dumlupinar University, told DW.
"This visit offers an important opportunity for Ankara," Adibelli added. "Our impression is that China is seeking a new period of cooperation with Turkey, centered on the Middle East."
With its booming economy and growing political influence in the Middle East, Turkey has emerged as a regional power and China's growing interest in the region is drawing Beijing and Ankara closer.
Syria a 'test case'
The two countries established strategic relations in 2010. Since then, they have held close dialogue on bilateral and international issues. However, Turkey and China are yet to settle their differences on issues like the situation in Syria.
Early this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticized China and Russia for vetoing a UN resolution aimed at stopping the violence in Syria.
"Russia and China did not vote based on the existing realities, but more because of a reflexive attitude against the West," Davutoglu said during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference shortly after the UN Security Council vote.
Davutoglu called for an international show of solidarity with Syrians and for pressure on the Syrian regime to stop massacring its own people.
According to Adibelli, what Xi says about Syria during his Turkey visit will be a test case for future cooperation between Ankara and Beijing.
"China's opposition to Syrian intervention is mainly based on its traditional foreign policy principles, as well as universal principles like not interfering in the internal affairs of another country," Adibelli said. "On the other hand, China has domestic concerns. It is afraid of a reaction to the Arab Spring. It is afraid of possible internal problems with its own opponents."
Turkish support for Uighurs
One of China's biggest concerns is unrest in Uighur-dominated Xinjiang province. With Turkey's historical ties to the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority in China, Chinese policy toward the group weighs on Turkish-Chinese ties. China has long viewed Turkey's policies toward the Uighurs with suspicion.
Turks protested China's treatment of Uighurs in 2009
In 2009, Turkish officials strongly criticized China's crackdown on riots in Xinjiang province. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the crackdown to genocide.
The incident dealt Turkish-Chinese relations a serious blow, but economic and political interests soon prevailed. Relations have improved since Davutoglu visited China in 2010. The historical visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Turkey in 2010 and the signing of eight agreements also strengthened the countries' ties.
'Turkey can address China's concerns'
Adibelli said Xi's visit to Ankara marks a good opportunity for both sides to establish mutual trust.
"If Turkey can assure China on Syria and give strong assurances about Beijing's national security concerns, then we may be able to expect a policy change," he said.
"Developing a new mechanism for dialogue or cooperation between the two countries will help bring solutions to regional crises like the one in Syria, and will also help overcome some decades-long political problems between Turkey and China," Adibelli added.
Turkish diplomats are optimistic about Xi's visit and expect that it will further boost economic ties. Xi is scheduled to attend a business forum with about 50 Turkish and Chinese companies on Wednesday.
Crucial trade partners
Trade between Turkey and China came to about $24 billion (18 billion euros) in 2011. China is Turkey's third-biggest trading partner after Russia and Germany.
Last year, Turkish exports from China increased by 26.3 percent over 2010 to $21.69 billion. However, Turkish imports to China remain weak, going up just 8.7 percent during the same period to $2.47 billion.
Turkey's growing trade deficit with China is a major issue in their relations. Ankara wants Chinese officials to ease import, trade and investment conditions for Turkish businesses. Ankara is also seeking Chinese support for a dramatic increase in Chinese tourism to Turkey.
Turkey also wants to develop its national defense industry and diversify its defense purchases. Trade in technology is one priority. Turkey has several joint projects with China, including in air defense. Turkish officials insist these projects do not undermine Turkey's commitment to NATO.
The year of China in Turkey
Turkey and China celebrated 40 years of diplomatic relations in 2010. This year is Chinese Culture Year in Turkey, and 2013 will be Turkish Culture Year in China.
Officials from Ankara and Beijing expect the events to broaden prospects for cultural exchange between the two countries.
Author: Ayhan Simsek
Editor: Nicole Goebel