Turkey’s decision to buy a Chinese-made air-and-missile defense system has aroused undue anxiety about Ankara’s ties with Beijing. While the purchase of the untested Chinese system is unhelpful from the perspective of NATO interoperability as well as Turkey’s protection, Ankara and Beijing see the deal primarily as a business transaction rather than as a precursor to closer security ties. The Chinese firm simply offered better co-production, technology transfer and pricing terms than did the competitors.
Turkey’s acquisition program aims to establish a national air-and-missile defense system that can intercept incoming ballistic missiles inside the atmosphere. On Sept. 26, after years of discussions and changing tender terms, the executive committee of the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that Turkey had selected China’s FD-2000 surface-to-air missile—the export version of the HongQi-9—as its preferred choice over the competing systems on offer. These included the U.S. Patriot, Europe’s Aster 30 SAMP/T and Russia’s S-300. Under the terms of its $3.4 billion bid, the China Precision Machinery Export Import Corporation (CPMIEC) will provide four batteries capable of firing up to 288 surface-to-air FD-2000 missiles. The parties expect to sign the final contract next year, with the first FD-2000 delivery occurring in 2017.
In explaining Turkey’s choice, some analysts have pointed to the strained relations between Ankara and its traditional Western partners over such issues as the shift under Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) away from Turkey’s traditional strict secular policies; frustrations over Turkey’s stalled European Union membership application; or tensions over the West’s reluctance to intervene more decisively in Syria. But one of the major pillars of Turkish foreign policy for the past decade under the AKP has been to diversify Turkey’s partnerships with other countries. Turkish-China ties have been a clear beneficiary.