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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaThe Turkey-China Rapprochement in the Context of the BRI: A Geo-economic Perspective

The Turkey-China Rapprochement in the Context of the BRI: A Geo-economic Perspective

Author: Murat Güneylioğlu

Affiliation: Kırklareli University

Organization/Publisher: Australian Institute of International Affairs/Australian Journal of International Affairs (Routledge)

Date/Place: May 18, 2022 / Canberra, Australia

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 29



Keywords: Geoeconomics, Geopolitics, Asymmetrical Dependence, Wedging Strategy, Security.




Türkiye is attempting to diversify its economic and political relations in the context of changing events, primarily the shift away from the West and China’s growing global reach. The author emphasizes on geo-economics as the primary theme of Türkiye-China rapprochement, particularly how it can cause significant changes in international politics. Geo-economics is concerned with a soft economy and finance-focused approach instead of the overt nature of conventional geopolitics. The aim is to establish favorable economic networks that penetrate security alliances, by which a country like China could counterbalance conventional geopolitical containment policies by using geo-economic networks as a wedge against collective security measures against it. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a geo-economic strategy that has caused notable changes in international relations. The rise of geoeconomics and its countering of conventional geopolitics gives middle states more freedom of maneuverability on the international scene. 


The author says that the serious disagreement between the West and Türkiye on national security matters and the claimed rise of “authoritarian tendencies” (i.e. independent foreign policy) within Türkiye has led to questioning the strategic alliance between both sides. The Türkiye-China rapprochement is understandable in the context of global geoeconomics, but Türkiye needs to overcome its problems with the West, otherwise it can become increasingly dependent on China. The author engages with the nature of geoeconomics and its role in conventional military alliances, also with the potential hard and soft power aspects involved in its networks especially in the context of shifting global relations after the Cold War and domestic issues in Türkiye.


The rise of geoeconomics as a crucial element of contemporary international relations is the result of the expansion of economic networks with an increasing complexity that are not governed by conventional geopolitical logic. Geopolitics is concerned with power projection and confrontation of existing and potential threats, with security measures and alliances as prominent manifestations of geopolitical behavior. Geoeconomics is less overt—it seeks to project influence by building and managing economic ties to achieve certain goals. Unlike geopolitics, the goal is to avoid confrontation or securitization in international relations. It is a balancing act between soft and hard power in a near subversive way: the more dependent a state becomes, the more it becomes vulnerable if geoeconomics shows its coercive side through something like sanctions. 


What makes the current scene of international politics unique is the rise of geoeconomics as a substitute for conventional geopolitics. Strong ideological and military logics are not the main factors on the international scene, but geo-economic dimensions. The BRI project is a prime example for this new reality, in its way to achieve entrance into regions conventionally under US influence without necessarily triggering a geopolitical clash. The project’s aim towards having common development also makes it more difficult for the states benefiting from the BRI project to join security alliances against China. The 2008 economic crisis coupled with American unwillingness to participate in the global common good has allowed China to fill that role to an extent, the result being geo-economic policies that act as wedge strategies against potential hostile coalitions. 


The rise of geoeconomics gave regional powers and small states a bigger opportunity to achieve economic security by hitching themselves with different geo-economic actors simultaneously. Meanwhile, smaller states could attempt to secure their regimes by allying with stronger states by securing favorable economic arrangements. In short, the BRI projects give a greater freedom for Eurasian states to take different decisions in their international affairs, supplying a fresh tool kit with which international dealings become less restrictive. Türkiye is one primary example. China offers Türkiye a potential opportunity to act independent of the West in light of the recent fall out in relations and ongoing tensions between the two parties, primarily regarding security concerns. 


Strong differences with Western allies has caused Türkiye to question its long-standing alliance and lean towards China and Russia. It is an attempt to diversify diplomatic, political and economic support for Türkiye. The author argues that especially after the failed coup in 2016, Türkiye’s security response has played a role in distancing from the West, as the US continues to shelter the coup’s mastermind Fethullah Gülen in his secluded Pennsylvania compound. American sanctions starting from the Trump administration and increasing Western criticism of domestic Turkish politics has caused a fear of economic warfare by imperialist forces. The shift in relations has resulted in the rise of nationalist and anti-Western sentiments in Türkiye, serving the ongoing rapprochement with China and other powers outside of the American alliance sphere. 


The Turkish Lira lost 70% of its value, yet Türkiye avoided sticking to IMF austerity measures, instead maneuvering towards Beijing and the BRI project. The BRI is an opportunity for Türkiye to maintain its economic growth as well as boost its regional significance and its own geo-economic influence. China offers an increase in diverse foreign investment and a financial source.  Accordingly, the BRI is a way to consolidate political security and economic growth via maintaining another major partner during the ongoing tense relations with the US and Western allies. 


However, China’s geo-economic objective seeks to establish asymmetrical dependence between itself and partner countries; it is an insurance policy in order to avoid the formation of an effective security alliance that may contain it. This wedging strategy benefits Türkiye to an extent, but it can increase Chinese influence over Turkish foreign policy. Additionally, the long-established interdependence between the West and Türkiye prevents a full shift by the latter towards China. Another limit is the lack of strong institutional ties and common values to deepen relations. China sees Türkiye as one partner among many, so it has no issue in favoring other regional states that may threaten Türkiye’s privileged position. Based on the limited trade between the countries, the author believes that Chinese-Turkish economic relations do not have a high potential in regard to achieving economic security through it, and opens the danger of economic dependence. Security differences, domestic policies and the unwillingness of Western powers to welcome increased investment in Türkiye does not help in resolving the tension between both sides. 


The basic points the author is following is that the main sources of Turkish rapprochement with China are based on domestic economic concerns and the faltering of relations with the West. Such an approach is not productive since China cannot compensate completely for the long-established economic relations between the West and Türkiye, and would bring the risk of having an asymmetrical dependence on China. Such an analysis is sound in its calculation of potential risks and so the author emphasizes finding some middle ground with the US, yet the assumptions on which the author’s analysis are built run some risks of misunderstanding. Though it is important to find a middle ground with the West, it is also important to mention that the West is not interested in dealing fairly with states outside its sphere. Türkiye’s concerns of economic warfare are not unfounded either, as Trump threatened Türkiye directly with economic punishment due to its regional policies and there is no reason to think that the US would not use economic sanctions as it has used wildly in various other parts of the world, from Cuba to Venezuela, and from Iran to now Russia. The author’s failure to understand Türkiye’s security responses after the 2016 coup attempt leads one to think that the international scene is much more simplistic than it truly is, and the danger of this approach fails to acknowledge the harm of Western interventions. Türkiye’s security concerns regarding the West’s behavior should not be trivialized by blaming it on shifts within domestic politics.


By: Omar Fili, CIGA Research Assistant



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