Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official visit to China was crowned with the signing of a nuclear energy deal with the Far Eastern country on Monday. The Agreement on Cooperation for the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes and a letter of intent on the bilateral cooperation in the field of nuclear energy were signed by Erdoğan and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, in Beijing.
Turkey wants to have three nuclear power plants functioning by 2023, the centennial of the foundation of the modern republic following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The government has already shaken hands with Russia for the construction of one of those plants in Akkuyu, a district in the southern province of Mersin. It also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Japan for a second one to be built in the northern province of Sinop, but that plan was shelved following the partial destruction and leak from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami there a year ago.
China has 14 nuclear power reactors currently in operation and more than 25 others under construction as it vies to become a self-sufficient reactor designer and constructor. Although it is a latecomer to the overseas nuclear energy production game, it has already had its feet inside the field with one project in Pakistan. Quoting an unnamed energy official in Ankara, Financial Times reported on Sunday that China is not demanding a government guarantee for the project and can take advantage of its own financing means in the race with possible rivals elsewhere for Turkey’s projects. In 2010, representatives from South Korea and Turkey held intense negotiations on the $20 billion project to build four nuclear reactors along Turkey’s Black Sea coast. But the negotiations were suspended after the sides failed to work out key differences, particularly on the subject of state guarantees.
During Turkey’s first prime ministerial visit to China in 27 years, Erdoğan met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice President Xi Jinping as well as Jiabao in Beijing on Monday. Erdoğan and Jiabao also signed four separate agreements on Monday. Those deals were on the encouragement and protection of agreed investments, cooperation between the country’s railway authorities and state televisions China Central Television (CCTV) and the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). Erdoğan began his visit to the Chinese capital with a half-an-hour delay, caused by a snag in the delivery of Erdoğan’s bodyguards’ luggage full of guns. The prime minister flew to Beijing from Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, whose native Muslim Uyghur ethnic group shares linguistic and cultural links with Turks and where Turkey plans to set up an industrial zone. Unable to retrieve their guns, the bodyguards told Erdoğan not to disembark from the plane. Erdoğan and his bodyguards left the plane half an hour after the journalists and businessmen accompanying him got off. It was not clear what caused the delay in the delivery of the luggage, but NTV television reported that Turkish officials blamed the Chinese authorities for the mishap.
Visit in Chinese media
Reporting on the three-day official visit, various Chinese media outlets highlighted its importance for relations between the two rapidly growing economies which are at odds over a number of political and social issues.
Fenghuang TV said on its website that the visit is proof that Turkey has shifted its focus from the West to the East. It also noted that the “flirt” has ended between Turkey and China and that “both countries are now aware of their responsibilities.” Most newspapers and TV stations told their audience that this year is a Chinese cultural year in Turkey and that 2013 will be a Turkish cultural year in China, underlining how important the two countries see each other culturally as well as politically and economically. That Erdoğan started his trip from Urumqi has been interpreted by Chinese media as a sign of growing transparency for their bilateral relations. Ethnic tensions have led to violence in the region in recent years, and relations between China and Turkey dipped in 2009, when Erdoğan described China’s use of overwhelming force against Uyghur protesters as a type of genocide.