With a high-profile visit to China,
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
continued his campaign to increase the
geopolitical clout of his country.
has great hopes of emerging (or re-emerging, if
one recalls the heyday of the Ottoman Empire) as
more than the geographic and economic linchpin of
Eurasia. Erdogan hopes to leverage that central
position by establishing Turkey as a regional
power, a country that can set the agenda for
events across the continents.
Erdogan's trip to China, Turkey still has a way to
go. Hurriyet, Turkey's leading
English-language daily, confused
Premier Wen Jiabao's
given name and surname and covered the visit as:
Erdogan meets Jiabao on milestone China trip. 
Geopolitics also saw no uniformity on a
key issue - Syria. Turkey has turned its back on
President Bashar al-Assad; the People's Republic
of China is actively engaged in the Syrian peace
Nevertheless, at Beijing Airport
on April 10, Erdogan told reporters that "China is
not in the same position as it was before", ie
that it was shifting away from full support of
Assad's regime in Syria.
One can speculate
that he made his statement at the airport on his
way out, so that he could shape the message
without fear of any embarrassing contradiction
from his hosts.
Optimistic spin was duly
provided to Turkey's Sunday Zaman newspaper by a
I think both [Russia and China] will
re-evaluate their positions and take a stand
very close to the Turkish one ... Russia and
China will not confront Turkey and the West by
continuing to support the Assad regime.
Beijing did not respond to
Erdogan's comments, at least not directly.
However, China's Syria peace initiative is
arguably its most important geopolitical move in
the last decade. If China and Russia have any
doubts about Assad's staying power, they are
unlikely to share them with Erdogan.
April 12, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
highlighted a special statement on the Syrian
In order to ease tensions and push
forward the political settlement process, China
has been engaging the Syrian Government and
other parties in Syria in its own way ... China
has also stayed in contact with relevant parties
such as regional countries, the Arab League and
Russia on the political resolution of the Syrian
issue. What China has done is effective.
At the next stage, China will work with
other parties concerned to continue to actively
support Annan's mediation for the political
settlement of the Syrian issue, maintain
communication and coordination with relevant
parties in a bid to play a constructive role for
the fair, peaceful and proper settlement of the
Syrian issue at an early date.
More to the point, shortly after
Erdogan's departure, China gave a high-profile
welcome to Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem,
and provided a full-throated endorsement of the
Kofi Annan mission to broker peace.
there was a message for Turkey in all this, it was
that China is directly engaged in the issue, and
is not looking to Turkey for leadership.
The fact is, Turkey is very far out on a
limb on Syria and, at this point, can only be
grateful that the international community has not
sawn it off.
Toward the end of 2011,
Erdogan apparently saw Syria as another Libya.
Turkey had dumped Muammar Gaddafi in Libya when
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the
Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) lined up against him and Erdogan could claim
the credit, such that it was, that the bombing was
conducted under NATO instead of French and British
As demonstrations against Assad
and his regime persisted into the summer and
autumn of 2011, it looked like Turkey might begin
thinking about a new regime-democratic, perhaps
with a strong Sunni component, and eager for
Turkish tutelage and assistance across its
Erdogan abandoned his
policy of engagement with Assad and joined the
chorus calling for his ouster.
however, no foreign intervention has materialized
out of the expressions of Western and GCC outrage,
Assad is still in Damascus, and Turkey, instead of
basking in another deft "right side of history"
Arab Spring maneuver, is now locked into an agenda
of confrontation with a desperate and rather
Turkey has not cut
its losses by exploring rapprochement with the
Syrian government; instead it has emerged as the
patron of the feckless (the Syrian National
Council - SNC), the reckless (Free Syria Army -
FSA), and the opportunistic (Friends of Syria).
Erdogan seems to be intent upon digging a
deeper hole for Turkey with his mouth, talking up
the horrors of the Assad regime so that
reconciliation will be politically impossible for
Upon leaving China, he declared that
he would invoke NATO's obligations under Article 5
(to protect a member state) in response to a minor
border skirmish that might actually have been
provoked by some FSA fighters seeking a haven in a
refugee camp in Turkey following an attack that
they had mounted.
Erdogan's Syria stance
has had other diplomatic repercussions.
Iran, which had traditionally viewed
Turkey as a supporter in its wrangling with the
West over its nuclear program, called for a shift
in venue for the "Iran Six" (also known as the
P5+1 - the United States, China, the United
Kingdom, France and Russia plus Germany) talks
from Istanbul in response to Turkey's pro-Western
tilt over Syria, and Erdogan's decision to go
all-in supporting NATO missile defense.
Erdogan peremptorily burned his bridges
with Tehran by responding, "Because of the lack of
honesty, Iran is continually losing its
international prestige." 
did take place in Istanbul, but the next round
will be in Baghdad.
successfully placed Turkey on the outs with Syria,
Russia and Iran. Since Turkey sources the majority
of its energy needs from Russia and Iran, this is
no small feat.
If Turkey is seen to be
advancing the Western freedom agenda, it can count
on coolness from China as well.
not good news for Erdogan, whose political
strength relies on delivering economic growth, not
priority on his April 2012 trip was business: to
strengthen the economic ties between the People's
Republic of China and Turkey. Trade is booming,
but with China enjoying a major surplus.
Therefore, Erdogan brought 300 businesspeople in
tow, issued calls for increased Chinese investment
in Turkey, and talked expansively of a "New Silk
Road", a railway bridging 28 countries and
connecting China and Turkey.
At the same
time, Erdogan was anxious to demonstrate Turkey's
stature (and his enhanced global profile) by
visiting Xinjiang, home to 10 million Uighurs who
share cultural and linguistic ties with Turkic
peoples across Asia.
The imperatives of
Turkish politics and geopolitical self-regard have
turned the issue of the Uighurs, and the ongoing
political and cultural repression they suffer at
the hands of the Chinese government, into another
crisis point for Erdogan.