Türkiye’s Relations with China and Repercussions on Transatlantic Relations by Dr. Altay Atlı

Yet Another Shift of Axis? Türkiye’s Relations with China and Repercussions on Transatlantic Relations

Is Türkiye experiencing a shift of axis in its foreign policy? Is Ankara distancing itself from the West and getting closer with the East? These are questions that are posed time and again, especially during periods of increased tension between Türkiye and the United States or Europe, and/or when Türkiye makes concrete efforts to improve its ties with the rest of the world. After frequent application of the thesis with reference to Türkiye’s relations with the Middle East, the Islamic world in general, Russia and the former Soviet republics, it is now China which is at the center of the shift of axis debate related to Turkish foreign policy. While it is true that Türkiye’s relations with China have entered a period of growth based on mutual benefits, this does not necessarily mean that such progress can only be obtained at the expense of Türkiye’s relationships elsewhere, particularly those in the Transatlantic area. The idea of a shift of axis is based on Cold War binary thinking, reproducing what is in today’s globalizing world a false dichotomy that Türkiye—or any other country for that matter—has to choose between the West or the East. Türkiye’s increasing relations with China, in the form of expanding intergovernmental dialogue, and increasing cooperation in trade, energy, defense industry and infrastructure related issues do not represent an ideological choice or animosity towards the West, rather they originate from requirements of the interconnected global economy and changing dynamics of international politics. There is not necessarily a zero-sum game here in play, and while it is perfectly possible for Türkiye to develop and maintain favorable and mutually beneficial relations with both the West and the East, the two processes can even reinforce each other creating further added value for Türkiye’s relations with the rest of the world.


Dr. Altay Atlı is a lecturer at the Department of International Relations of Koç University and a research associate at Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center, specializing in international political economy, Asian economies and international relations in the Asia Pacific. Having studied in Türkiye and Australia, Dr. Atlı obtained his Ph.D. from Boğaziçi University, and was affiliated with this university’s Asian Studies Center as well as Shanghai University’s Center for Global Studies. He also worked as research coordinator at Türkiye’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), and continues to provide training and consulting services for the business community in his capacity as a senior consultant at Intelcon, a consulting and executive training company. Dr. Atlı is an expert member at the China Network of Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) and a columnist at the Hong Kong based international news and opinion portal Asia Times. More details on his work can be found in his personal web site www.altayatli.com.