China congrats Erdogan on reelection win; ‘Beijing-Ankara ties to continue being stable’
Turkey may continue balanced, pluralistic foreign policy, but may become estranged from US due to unsolved problems
Published: May 29, 2023 11:20 PM
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a political rally held at Ataturk Airport of Istanbul, Türkiye, May 7, 2023. Large-scale rallies were held in Istanbul, the country's largest city, over the weekend, marking the final weekend before the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14th.(Photo: Xinhua)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a political rally held at Ataturk Airport of Istanbul, Türkiye, May 7, 2023. (Photo: Xinhua)

After winning reelection and extending his two decades in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his supporters in Ankara and called on them to build a "century of Turkey" together.  

Analysts said that during his extended tenure, Erdogan may continue a balanced and pluralistic foreign policy with geopolitical ambitions, but with the contradictions in Turkey-US relations still proving difficult to resolve, Turkey may become more estranged from the US and the West.

Erdogan, the 69-year-old head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, won re-election with 52.1 percent of the vote and challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu had 47.9 percent, Reuters reported. 

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Erdogan on his reelection as President of the Republic of Turkey, and said that China and Turkey are both major developing countries and emerging market countries, and share extensive common interests. In recent years, the China-Turkey strategic cooperative relationship has maintained a momentum of development, and practical cooperation in various fields has made positive headway.  

Xi said he prizes the development of China-Turkey relations and stands ready to work with Erdogan to promote mutual understanding and mutual support on issues concerning each other's core interests and major concerns so as to boost the sustained, sound and stable development of the two countries' strategic cooperative relationship.

The election in Turkey, a country located at the crossroads of East and West, has drawn the world's attention in recent months, with some Western media calling it "one of the most consequential" elections for the country. No candidate won more than 50 percent of the first round of voting on May 14. After the result came out, Erdogan's challenger, Kilicdaroglu, called it "the most unfair election in years" but did not dispute the outcome, Reuters reported. 

Erdogan's victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey a century ago, while his long period in power has also come under criticism from the US and some Western media. 

Turkey entered "the era of Erdogan" at the beginning of the 21st century, and the Turkish leader's individual style marked by the country's domestic politics, diplomacy and major policies that he has implemented for the past two decades will be carried on after his victory, Tian Wenlin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times. 

Erdogan's 20 consecutive years in power have freed Turkey from frequent government changes and brought more stability, order and predictability to the country's politics. Meanwhile, with the growth of its comprehensive national strength, Turkey has grown into an important geopolitical power that is more deeply involved in multiple regions and sensitive issues, and effectively achieved its strategic goals, Zan Tao, an expert on Turkish affairs and an associate professor at Peking University, told the Global Times. 

In terms of social culture, Erdogan has promoted "traditional values" in Turkey, which has inspired confidence and patriotism among Turkish people on the one hand and made Turkish society increasingly conservative on the other, with more value placed on Islamic symbols and the abolition of some policies on secularization, including not wearing headscarves in public places.

The domestic economy will top Erdogan's agenda in his new term, analysts said. The Turkish lira has devalued steadily in recent years, halving in value in one year alone, and Erdogan's unorthodox economic policies, including a long-term aversion to raising interest rates, have been criticized by some in Turkey for contributing to rising inflation, media reported. 

Erdogan has promoted privatization to drive economic development since he took office 20 years ago, which has also led to a widening wealth gap and an unstable economic and domestic environment. In recent years, Turkey has experienced sluggish economic growth and monetary crisis, Tian said. 

Without adjusting the previous neoliberal approach, its economy may fall into a worse situation and become a major challenge for Erdogan's governance, said Tian.

Aside from high inflation, dealing with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and uniting the nation will also pose a major challenge for Erdogan. Moreover, more global attention has also been paid to possible changes in Turkey's foreign policy and its influence on the geopolitical situation against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis. 

Pluralistic foreign policy

Aside from Chinese leaders, several world leaders have congratulated Erdogan on his electoral victory. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday congratulated Erdogan and called him his "dear friend," media reported. 

US President Joe Biden on Monday also congratulated Erdogan on the election win. He said in a post on Twitter, "I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges." 

Zan told the Global Times that Erdogan's reelection means Turkey will continue its balanced and pluralistic foreign policy, but from the perspective of Turkey's national interests and Erdogan's ruling style, it will still be difficult to resolve the contradictions in Turkey-US relations in the next five years and the country may become more estranged from the US and the West.

Over the past few years, Turkey-US relations have been "contradictory and mutually necessary", as Erdogan has advocated an independent foreign policy. For example, Erdogan did not follow the US on sanctions against Russia, and on the issue of NATO's eastward expansion, Turkey has obstructed the admission of new members. Erdogan also resisted US pressure and purchased Russia's air defense missile system, said Zan.

But as a NATO member, Turkey in the future will still be necessary for the alliance and is expected to continue cooperating with the US on issues such as anti-terrorism in the Middle East and Afghanistan, said Zan. 

Tian described relations between the US and Turkey as those who quarrel a lot but cannot leave each other. The US believed to be interfered with the coup attempt in 2016 is one motive for Erdogan to tilt to Russia and turn to the East. But Turkey will not use all its leverage on Russia and its relations with the country have also become a bargaining chip in dealing with the West.

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, Turkey is expected to continue maintaining a high degree of vigilance against Russia, but not join the Western camp against it, said analysts. 

The Erdogan government has geopolitical ambitions and may continue to actively participate in mediation of the Ukraine crisis so as to further enhance its status as a regional power and its role in international geopolitics, said Zan. 

"In the upcoming period, we foresee Turkey actively participating in the current normalization process in the Middle East. We will witness a Turkey that strengthens its relations with countries in the region from Syria to Egypt, and from Saudi Arabia to Israel," Tunç Akkoç, editor in chief of Harici Media in Turkey, told the Global Times.

We may also observe different models of negotiations in which China and Turkey also act as mediators in the Ukraine crisis, said Akkoç. 

At a press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also congratulated President Erdogan on his reelection as Turkish president, saying China supports Turkey in following a development path that suits its own national conditions. 

Mao said that China attaches great importance to China-Turkey relations. In recent years, under the guidance of the two heads of state, the two countries have achieved fruitful cooperation in various fields, benefiting the two peoples. China stands ready to work with Turkey to scale new heights in the China-Turkey strategic relationship of cooperation.  

Maintaining relations with China is also part of Erdogan's policy of "turning to the East," said analysts. 

Turkey will look for ways to enhance its partnership with China, as relations with it were important topics for both parties during the election campaign and the Belt and Road Initiative is viewed as a big opportunity for Turkey, said Akkoç.

Zan said that in Erdogan's coming term, the relationship between China and Turkey is expected to continue being stable. 

"As a country that plays an important geopolitical role, Turkey attaches great importance to China's rising international influence, especially its dominant position in multilateral mechanisms. This kind of emphasis is even more prominent in the era of major changes in Eurasian geopolitics."

Moreover, China has made great achievements in fighting against the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism with its achievements in its Xinjiang region. Turkey adopts a relatively pragmatic attitude and has always avoided taking radical actions that would provoke China too much, the expert said.