Author: Yang Sheng
Posted on: Global Times, April 18th, 2017
The referendum result in Turkey that gives the president sweeping powers has caused concern among Chinese observers who predict pan-Turkism ideals might be reinforced and pose more challenges to China to counter terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
More than 86 percent of the 55-million Turkish electorate voted on Sunday, including 1.3 million voters from abroad. With 99 percent of votes counted, 51.35 percent backed the constitutional changes, compared to 48.65 percent for the “no” side, according to figures from the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.
The win will likely give rise to pan-Turkism, which will make some political powers in the country sympathize or even support terrorists, separatists and religious extremists in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but pan-Turkism is not the priority for the Turkish government, Zan Tao, an associate professor at Peking University, told the Global Times.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told China’s Phoenix TV on March 11 that Syria is cooperating with China’s intelligence agencies to strike against Uyghur militants in Syria, and he said clearly that Turkey’s border is open to Uyghur jihadists. Assad also claimed that he does not know why the Turkish government is doing nothing to stop them.
In July 2015, there were anti-China protests in Turkey due to misunderstandings over China’s ethnic policies in Xinjiang. The Chinese government warned Chinese tourists in Turkey to pay attention to their safety and avoid the protests, Xinhua reported in July 2015.
However, pan-Turkism in Turkey has a long history and it did not start in Erdogan’s era, so the referendum result will not affect China-Turkey relations too much, and the cross-governmental ties will remain the same as before, Hua Liming, a Middle East studies expert and a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, told the Global Times on Monday.
But after the referendum, Turkey’s relations with the US and the EU will surely be damaged, so there is no reason for Erdogan to worsen ties with non-Western powers like China and Russia, he added.
In addition, “Erdogan supports the Belt and Road initiative and he also needs investment to improve the infrastructure in Turkey. Therefore, there is space for cooperation with China,” said Yin Gang, a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“The win for the ‘yes’ is not overwhelming, so those who oppose Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not stay silent. Turkey is not like other Middle Eastern countries, its elites and youth are very Westernized, and adding the influence of Kurdish people, Erdogan will have to face the resistance from these people,” Hua said.
The new administrative system will take effect after the elections in 2019 when Erdogan’s current term ends, yet immediate changes are enabled for the president to head the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) while serving as president, and make high-level appointments, including members of Turkey’s top judicial body without parliamentary approval, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
According to Russia Today, the new powers would allow Erdogan to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and state officials as well as dissolve parliament. He could also potentially stay in power until 2029, while the prime minister’s position would be abolished.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said they would challenge the results of the referendum due to claims of irregularities and demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) suggested “an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote,” Xinhua reported.
“No foreign or domestic political power can effectively challenge Erdogan’s authority in Turkey now. As Erdogan grows more powerful, Turkey will become less and less Westernized,” Hua said.
“The secularization reform of Turkey, which was started by the country’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has failed eventually,” Hua added.