What Does Turkey-China Business Summit in Ankara Tell?

A summit that brought the Turkish and Chinese businessmen together in Ankara may be more pomp than substance. But the diversity of attendants tell about the mood in Turkey.

Dogu Perincek, Turkey’s leading anti-NATO and anti-American crusader, managed to assemble a diverse group of businessmen from Turkey and China in Ankara in an attempt to contemplate ways to advance trade and joint industrial production between two countries against Western capitalist economies. The business summit held in Green Park Ankara hotel on Wednesday created nothing little than a bit fanfare in media, but it was important from many points of view.

It may even not qualify for our immediate attention amidst more urgent matters in the political domain. But it was who joined the summit rather than the summit itself reveals more about the change of heart among pro-government businessmen about their view of the world affairs and the future of Turkey’s economic orientation as the balance of power shifts toward East Asia.

Alongside Perincek, who throughout his whole life never masked his disdain for Western capitalism and Turkey’s place in its political structure, two key figures saw no scruples in taking part in the summit titled “Turkey-China Cooperation For Breakthrough in Production.” Ethem Sancak, a former Marxist-turned-entrepreneur and a close associate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Murat Ulker, former CEO of Yildiz Holding, the largest conglomerate of business groups in the conservative business community, offered heartfelt support for Perincek’s initiative to explore ways for a closer Turkey-China relationship.

“A new world is in the making. The Atlantic Age is left behind, humanity enters Asian Age,” Perincek said, elaborating on the contours of an emerging change in world politics.

His remarks carry the tune of a sober analysis as much as his firm ideological beliefs he developed during for much of his political career.

“I’m a former comrade of Mr. Chairman (Dogu Perincek), but a new entrepreneur,” said Sancak to a glowing audience. Regarding cooperation between two countries, Sancak argued that “Turkey and China are bound up” [by shared goals]. He stated:

But the punch line came when Murat Ulker, who left the stewardship of his company to an American CEO in the near past, said: “We all side by China.”

“This is a great initiative. Absolutely we need further development of air, land and sea routes so that we can better benefit from the Silk Road,” he expounded.

Whether his words are intended to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese delegation or carried real weight, it was not possible to decide at the moment. Still, those remarks are pretty unusual for a businessman like Ulker who mostly did business with the West and who had significant investments in the U.S.

The presence of so many different Turkish businessmen was a testament to the appeal of Perincek’s effort to woe business elites of China whose growing economic clout raised the specter of a new Cold War between the U.S.-led West and the Red Dragon. The event also offered a rare opportunity to the Chinese businessmen to make a compelling case for Chinese-style development at a time when the trade war between China and the U.S. shows no signs of subsiding and sends a chilling echo across the international markets.

(Credit for the map: Asia Green Real Estate)

After noting that the international system is undergoing seismic changes, Chinese Ambassador to Turkey Deng Lee said China speeds up the Belt and Road initiative. “China defends the principles of joint benefits. Turkey and China are both developing countries. They are natural partners of this project. There is a huge potential for our cooperation,” said the ambassador in what seems an effort to win over the critics of a grand initiative that has become a matter of bitter international controversy. He highlighted the prospect of shared gains and benefits from the new Silk Road.

Business dimension aside, the Turkish treatment of Chinese elites in such an esteemed way betrays public sentiment about Beijing’s mass incarceration of Muslim Uighurs in large-scale concentration camps. Ankara, to its credit, appeared an outspoken critic of Beijing regarding the Uighur case, while other influential Muslim countries largely adopted a measured and muted response in that matter.

When considering who attended the meeting from both sides, one cannot fail to have a sense of surprise regarding the high-profile participation. Chinese Ambassador to Turkey Deng Lee, Political Undersecretary Wang Fei, Press and Public Relations Undersecretary Xie Xinxing while the list of Turkish businessmen includes either CEOs or heads of executive boards of leading Turkish companies such as Onur Air, Okan Holding, ES Holding, Arzum, Is Bank and many more.

The rise of China and what it means for the geopolitical balance of power in the future is a subject of impassioned debate across the West. How to deal with growing Chinese power pits the U.S. against its European allies over the course of diplomatic and economic actions to undertake. The U.S. and E.U. remain deeply divided not only in crafting of political discourse, but also in strategies and most immediate policies. The U.S. sanction against Chinese tech giant Huawei is only the latest example of that bitter division among NATO allies.

The White House slapped the Chinese company with punitive sanctions and pressured its European allies to follow the suit. But European countries think differently.

Other countries, to the dismay of the U.S., mull the purchase of 5G technology developed by Huawei. Against this backdrop, China’s bold attempt to lure Turkish investors and businessmen with close ties to the Erdogan administration merits close attention. The U.S., which has already found itself desperately pondering how to curtail Turkey’s pivot to Russia, would now feel compelled to closely monitor growing efforts between Chinese and Turkish business communities.

Whether lavish praises and flattery words traded among businessmen from both countries would substantially translate into deeds, it remains to be seen. Turkey and China may display an eagerness to further advance their business cooperation on many grounds, but the framework and the diplomatic infrastructure for a quick leap forward in the current volume of trade and business ties may take time longer than normally conceived to realize expressed lofty goals. And the odd convergence of diverse figures in a Perincek-led summit certainly depends on the fragile composition of Turkey’s domestic politics, which could be upended by the potential turbulence regarding Istanbul vote this June.

New York-based writer. Politics, culture, literary criticism, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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