The bonds between Turkey and China are closer than ever, as cooperation is blossoming in culture, energy, transportation and tourism. The Chinese ambassador to Turkey, Gong Xiaosheng, spoke with Sunday’s Zaman in an exclusive interview last week.
The recent visits by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to China show strong commitment from the two governments to boost bilateral ties, Gong said.
From the experience of an ambassador, what is your impression of the recent development in Turkey-China relations?
Turkey and China are well aware of each other’s importance, and strengthening bilateral cooperation would benefit both countries. Turkey and China’s economies maintain strong growth even when other countries are gripped by financial crisis. Both members of the G20, Turkey and China assume a similar stance in most foreign issues. For example, on the Syria problem, both China and Turkey wish to see a peaceful resolution instead of military intervention to keep this region stable. Both countries eye closer strategic ties and the start of cooperation in energy, transportation and even aerospace; at the end of this year, Turkey will cooperate with China to launch another satellite.
Is there a visa waiver plan between Turkey and China?
During Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent visit to China, leaders from the two governments raised the visa issue and intend to apply a more flexible visa policy between Turkey and China. Now, it is very easy for Turkish businessmen to get a one year multiple-entry visa to China. And the application procedure is quite simple and fast -- usually it just takes three or four working days to get a Chinese visa in Turkey.
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What do you think of the current trade deficit between China and Turkey? What should be done to solve the problem for more balanced trade?
I am not happy to see the trade imbalance between China and Turkey. But we should analyze the problem from different perspectives. First, what is the factor that caused the current trade deficit? It is not China’s intention to create a trade imbalance with Turkey. Chinese products are very competitive in price, which attracts Turkish importers. It is profitable for them to buy from China and sell in Turkey. Second, most of the imports from China are raw materials and industrial equipment. Turkey uses them to produce its own products for export; cheap imports from China help reduce Turkey’s production costs, which is beneficial for its exports.
However, we would love to see balanced trade between China and Turkey. China has made great efforts to increase direct investment in Turkey and will continue to do so. By now, Chinese and Turkish companies are cooperating in the areas of energy, transportation and telecommunications. Just as Today’s Zaman reported before, China Avic International Holding is cooperating with Turkey’s Hattat Holding in a thermal power plant in Bartın, a small province in northern Turkey on the Black Sea; China’s largest wind power company, Sinovel, intends to invest in Turkey to construct wind turbine towers. China is involved in building the İstanbul-Ankara high-speed railway, both in financing and construction equipment. China’s leading telecommunications companies such as Huawei and ZTE are running businesses in Turkey. To attract Chinese direct investment, we should devise creative business plans. For example, China could provide financial and equipment support, while Turkey takes charge of promoting sales in domestic and European markets. Also, Turkey should consider applying a more flexible visa and work permit policy to Chinese workers. And we need people who know the Chinese and Turkish languages as well.
Although China would love to import more from Turkey, there are some problems that prevent Turkey from exporting to China. There is still a lack of understanding of each other’s markets and business rules. For example, Turkish wine is of high quality, but Turkish wine firms need to understand Chinese buyers’ psychology and preferences and launch promotions specifically targeting the Chinese market. China now imports a large amount of marble from Turkey. I have also been looking for other suitable Turkish products to introduce to Chinese entrepreneurs.
What does China think of business cooperation with Turkey in third countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa? Does China encourage its companies for joint investments with Turkish counterparts in those regions?
It is beneficial for both China and Turkey to cooperate in third markets, and there is already successful cooperation between the two countries. For example, in Algeria, Turkish and Chinese firms work together to bid for energy plant construction. The Chinese Embassy has been organizing various business meetings that bring Turkish and Chinese entrepreneurs together to discuss opportunities for cooperation.
There is still a widely held belief among Turkish consumers that Chinese goods lack proper quality; is China planning to launch a PR campaign to fight that negative perception?
China produces high quality goods. For example, companies such as Apple and IBM have moved most of their factories to China. Most of their laptops are made in China. It takes time and mutual efforts to modify this wrong perception of the Turkish public.
Investing human capital through culture and education exchange
Is there any media cooperation between Turkey and China? Do the Chinese media intend to broadcast more Turkish content?
Through Turkcell satellite TV, the Turkish audience can receive some programs from Chinese Central Television (CCTV). Also, Chinese media show growing interest in importing Turkish TV series, films and music. Recently, a Chinese film company wanted to buy the right to release “Fetih 1453” in China. Turkish and Chinese media play indispensable roles in introducing each other’s culture and improving mutual understanding. The Chinese Embassy in Turkey would love to cooperate more closely with Turkish media. We wish to organize a China tour especially for Turkish media experts in the future.
What is your advice for Turkish media on launching representative offices in China?
It is a very good idea for Turkish media to set up branches in China to serve the Turkish expat community there. An efficient method is to cooperate with local publication companies, research centers and think tanks; for example, the Zaman newspaper could consider launching a local office in Beijing in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to publish professional research about Turkey, Central Asia and the Middle East. Leading Turkish media could help China to understand this region better.
What is the meaning of organizing China Culture Year in Turkey?
The China and Turkey culture years are to increase mutual respect and understanding through various cultural events. For example, in the coming September, there will be a Chinese Islamic culture exhibition in İstanbul where imams from both countries will be invited to recite the Quran together.
We expect to see a great increase in the number of Chinese tourists during and after the China and Turkey culture years. When I started working in Turkey in 2008, the number of Chinese tourists to Turkey was less than 40,000. Now, the figure is around 120,000. This growth is amazing. The culture years will contribute to the continuous growth in tourism.