November 17, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9041

Chinese Middle East Scholar Zou Zhiqiang: 'Turkey Disturbs The Geopolitical Structure'; Erdoğan Is 'Seeking To Establish His Own Caliphate'

November 17, 2020
Turkey, China, South Caucasus | Special Dispatch No. 9041

On November 6, 2020, the most circulated Chinese-language Singaporean daily United Morning Paper (联合早报), published an op-ed by Chinese Middle East scholar Zou Zhiqiang (邹志强), an associate professor of the Middle East Studies Institute (MESI), Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), regarding Turkey's interferences in the geopolitics of the Middle East, North Africa, and Transcaucasia.

Zou's article, titled "Turkey Disturbs The Geopolitical Structure," is a sharp criticism against Turkey's interventionist policies in the Greater Mediterranean region, and specifically, its recent campaigns in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh, its frequent use of proxies and mercenaries in Syria and Libya and its maritime expansionism in the Mediterranean Sea.

Zou maintains that despite all the difficulties that this policy has caused Turkey, the opposition it faces from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and the threat of sanctions by major European powers and the U.S., he does not expect Turkey to change for four main reasons: 1) Turkey uses forceful means to create new mechanisms to participate in conflict resolutions and to position itself as an indispensable major power. This, in part, has to do with Erdoğan's own aspirations to re-establish a new Caliphate; 2) the Turkish government has been driven by rising domestic challenges and increasing nationalist sentiment to seek material political gains through strong external actions; 3) Turkey has interfered aggressively in regional disputed hotspots to use it as leverage against external powers and improve its international standing and voice; 4) the Turkish government uses interventions for material and political gains.

It is worth noting that on October 7, 2020, Hami Aksoy, spokesperson for Turkey's ministry of foreign affairs, in response to a question regarding the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said that Turkey expressed "concern" on human rights practices against the "Uyghur Turks"[1] and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.[2] On February 9, 2019, Aksoy, in response to a question regarding Beijing's human rights violations perpetrated against Uyghurs, also said: "The reintroduction of internment camps in the XXIst century and the policy of systematic assimilation against the Uyghur Turks carried out by the authorities of China is a great shame for humanity."[3] Notably, in 2009, then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was one of the first leaders to call China's treatment of the Uyghurs "genocide."[4]

However, in 2017, even though Turkey has for years been a haven for Uyghur activists, a Turkey-China extradition agreement was signed between the two countries. While the agreement was not ratified, Erdoğan nevertheless submitted it to the Grand National Assembly (TBMM) for consideration.[5] Furthermore, international media reported that Turkey has recently deported a number of Uyghurs "to third countries" where "it is easier for China to secure their extradition," such as Tajikistan.[6]

According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, during an official visit to China in July 2019, Erdoğan even said that people in Xinjiang "live happily." "It is a fact that the peoples of China's Xinjiang region live happily in China's development and prosperity," Xinhua reported Erdoğan as saying.[7] During the same visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised Erdoğan for repeatedly reiterating that "any anti-China separatist activities are not allowed in Turkey" as well as for Turkey's support "to China's anti-terrorist operations," adding that Beijing is willing to "enhance international cooperation on counter-terrorism" with Turkey.[8]

It is worth mentioning that, at a time when the Turkish economy is facing dire challenges, Erdoğan hopes to bring to the country more Chinese investments and expand the Turkey-China economic partnership, in order to penetrate the Asian market. In an article, published on October 29, 2020, in the China Daily, Turkish Ambassador to China Abdulkadir Emin Önen wrote: "Turkey is well aware of the rapid global transformation marked by the rise of the Asian continent. That is one of the reasons why last year we launched the multidimensional 'Asia Anew' initiative,[9] recognizing the opportunities offered by this phenomenon. We therefore consider China a close, reliable friend and a vital partner in furthering economic integration across Asia."[10]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Chinese President Xi Jinping (source:

Zou Zhiqiang (source:

The following is a complete translation of Zou Zhiqiang's article for United Morning Paper:[11]

"Turkey Is Still Forcing Its Way Through The Region"

"Recently, Turkey has been extremely active in its surrounding hot spots. It has strongly intervened in armed conflicts or geopolitical games in Syria, Libya, Transcaucasia and the Eastern Mediterranean. It continued to compete with Russia, France, the United States and other major powers, exacerbating the intensity and complexity of the conflicts and triggering complex changes in the geopolitical structure of the region.

"Turkey has open war fronts in a number of regional affairs and has been involved in regional conflict hotspots. Turkey has become an important player in regional hotspots and geopolitical games, preferring to use militarized means to shape its own standing and gain material benefits.

"Turkey has consistently maintained its military presence in Syria, supporting the opposition forces and carrying out successive cross-border military operations to attack the Kurds in the north. It has established a number of conflict de-escalation zones and buffer zones and trained local proxies to launch multiple rounds of attacks on Russian and U.S. forces. In Libya, Turkey supported the western Government of National Accord (GNA), signed an agreement to demarcate their shared maritime border, and participated in the war through military assistance and deployment of troops that significantly changed the pattern of Libya's civil war and forced the country into a new stalemate.

"In Transcaucasia, following the outbreak of a new round of armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Turkish Government has provided Azerbaijan with unwavering and vocal support in arms and personnel and other direct forms of assistance. The depth of their involvement was unprecedented. In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has vigorously provoked maritime demarcation disputes, used frequent exploration of maritime resources and militarized escorts, and sought to expand its maritime rights and share of resources.

"Although it faces opposition from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and other countries in several other areas, and is also threatened by sanctions from major European powers and the U.S., Turkey is still forcing its way through the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has again recently publicly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, and diplomatic relations between the two countries now face severe challenges.

"Turkey proactively gets involved in volatile hotspots and their surroundings and thus complicates the regional structure. Even though this policy has brought Turkey a fair share of trouble, it still will not change it willingly."

"Turkey Has Interfered Aggressively In Regional Disputed Hotspots To Use It As Leverage Against External Powers"

"First of all, this is the continuation of Turkey's aggressive foreign policy in recent years, committed to finding geopolitical edge and boosting its position as a major power. Turkey actively voices and intervenes in regional hotspots in order to boost its presence and influence. Turkey seeks to create new mechanisms to participate in conflict resolutions and to position itself as an indispensable major power. Erdoğan has criticized Macron on behalf of other Muslim countries, and he is seeking to establish his own Caliphate.

"Second, the Turkish government has been driven by rising internal challenges and domestic nationalist sentiment to seek material political gains through strong external actions. The Turkish economy is currently facing serious challenges, the lira has depreciated sharply, economic growth is weak, and the coronavirus epidemic has aggravated its economic decline. The excitement of domestic nationalism makes Turkey prefer power projection, or even military action, to divert domestic conflict and gain political clout.

"Third, Turkey has interfered aggressively in regional disputed hotspots to use it as leverage against external powers and improve its international standing and voice. On the one hand, Turkey has benefited from the caution of major powers such as the United States, Europe and Russia. On the other hand, Syria's refugees, tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Asian-African conflicts have also been used by it as additional levers to exploit major power ties and showcase its self-importance and elevate its clout vis-à-vis the EU, U.S. and Russia."

"The Geopolitical Games Between Russia, Turkey, The United States And Europe Have Escalated"

"Finally, it is easy to obtain visible and palpable advantages through rapid military means, which are helpful in boosting domestic morale and manifesting a perception of great power. Turkey has repeatedly and forcefully interfered and undermined regional affairs, and continues to demonstrate its influence through brazen military action and then seeks to profit from it. Turkey's push for forceful interventions has been further reinforced by material benefits:

"First of all, Turkey's forceful intervention has destabilized the parties involved and has significantly reshaped the conflicts and battlefields in Libya and Transcaucasia. The ways in which wars and conflicts are fought in the age of drone warfare are rapidly evolving, and Turkey's frequent use of drones and mercenaries to engage in war may inspire future follow-ups. 'Drone Wars' and 'Recruitment of Mercenaries for Transnational Combat' have become key terms in regional conflict. At the same time, regional disputes have become more difficult to resolve and the differences between the parties have become more complex.

"Second, there has been an increased linkage between Middle East hotspots and neighboring regions. On the one hand, Turkey has used the experience gained on the Syrian battlefield and through its trained proxies to intervene in conflicts in Libya and Transcaucasia; on the other hand, in several other regional hotspots, Turkey has conflicting views with other major powers, making its regional policies and actions appear more intertwined, a pattern that is reflected in Turkey's relations with Russia and Europe.

"Finally, the geopolitical games between Russia, Turkey, the United States and Europe have escalated and have taken on new trends. Turkey has initiated attacks against its neighbors in order to expand its international influence and use it as a lever against Russia, Europe and the United States. Compared to Turkey's fierce pursuit of change, Russia is seeking stability, while Europe and the United States remain relatively detached, waiting for an opening to strike. The trilateral game will continue to have an impact on the path that many regional hotspots will take."


[1] Major U.S. media outlets and U.S. government websites do not use this phrase, generally using simply "Uyghurs," while Turkey's ministry of foreign of affairs uses it regularly.

[2], October 7, 2020.

[3], February 9, 2019.

[4], July 10, 2009.

[5], May 21, 2020.

[6], July 27, 2020.

[7], July 22, 2019.

[8], July 2, 2019.

[9], August 5, 2019., December 26, 2019.

[10], October 29, 2020.

[11] United Morning Paper, November 6, 2020. Retrieved from:

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