The news that Turkey and China had organized a joint military exercise at the huge Konya airbase in Turkey's central Anatolian region last month came as a surprise to many. After all, just a year ago, when clashes between Uighur and Han Chinese broke out in China's Xinjiang province in July 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Chinese authorities of mishandling a situation that he compared to "genocide." What explains such a dramatic improvement in relations between Turkey and China? And how should this military exercise be understood in the context of the current shifts taking place in global power politics?
To begin with, it bears noting that for those who follow Turkish politics and Turkey-China relations closely, the development is not surprising at all. Erdogan's remarks last year notwithstanding, ties between the two countries have been deepening since former Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Turkey in April 2000 opened a new chapter in bilateral relations. At that time, the two countries signed several agreements in the field of political, economic, and energy cooperation, and made a joint statement regarding the fight against international terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism. Since then, Turkey has never officially supported the Uighur separatist movement, which has historically been the main obstacle in Turkey-China relations.
However, the drill's timing, significance and political implications warrant examination.