ISTANBUL — On matters of trade and ambition, Turkey and China are kindred spirits. A visit to Turkey this week by China's vice president symbolized the growth of an alliance between two rising powers with booming economies — but they differ sharply over how to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Xi Jinping presided over the signing of deals worth billions of dollars and delivered messages of harmony in Ankara, and then in Istanbul on Wednesday. Both sides sought, at least publicly, to downplay contentious issues, which also include a Chinese crackdown on the minority Uighurs, who are ethnically related to Turks.
"Both countries are quickly rising stars. One of them is a global power. The other is a regional power," said Murat Bilhan, a former Turkish ambassador and chairman of the foreign policy platform at Istanbul Kultur University. "This, of course, gives them some kind of look toward each other and they need to cooperate."
But, there are challenges. Trade between Turkey and China soared over the past decade to $24 billion a year, though Chinese exports account for most of it. Turkish officials want to address this imbalance by securing more Chinese investment and tourism, as well as joint ventures in Turkey or other locations, such as Africa.
"This is a very huge problem between Turkey and China," said Selcuk Colakoglu, head of Asia-Pacific studies at USAK, a research center based in Ankara.
Zafer Caglayan, the Turkish economy minister, said deals worth $1.4 billion (€1.05 billion) were signed between energy and other companies from the two countries in Istanbul. A day earlier, Turkey and China signed a three-year currency swap deal worth $1.6 billion (€1.2 billion) to enable bilateral trade in local currencies.
Prior to the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey stepped up efforts to develop alliances with regional neighbors, including authoritarian regimes such as Libya and Syria. But it has aligned closely with the West in calling for democratic change, and says Syrian President Bashar Assad should stop military assaults on the opposition and quit.Comment on this story
China, which carried out a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, has refused to condemn Syria over the violence. Along with Russia, China vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning the Syria's military campaign against the opposition, though it later said it supported the league's plans.
Colakoglu said Turkey, a democracy with its own shortcomings, had settled on a policy of advocating "open and free elections" while China sees the Syrian case as "a kind of destabilization" in which the West is maneuvering for influence.