By Burak Akinci
ANKARA, May 10 (Xinhua) -- Turkey has much to offer and also gain from the Belt and Road Initiative which can reshape China's growing influence in the region and link European countries to the Asian markets, according to Turkish experts.
"Unfortunately, Turkey has discovered China much too late, but we are now narrowing gradually the gap with giving all of our support to this project which is bringing together two important countries in their regions, the Crescent (Turkey) and the Dragon (China)," said Ersin Ercin, General Director of Asia Pacific Affairs of Turkish Foreign Ministry.
"China is the roaring engine of the world economy and this project is very much in line with the strategic cooperation agreement that Turkey and China signed in 2010," said this high-ranking official during a panel organized in Ankara on Sino-Turkish relations.
The Belt and Road Initiative, comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was first proposed by China in 2013. It is expected to include more than 60 percent of the world's population and over one third of global economic output through 65 countries.
The initiative comes as Turkey has already built significant and costly projects to integrate itself with the route, namely the Euro-Asia tunnel, the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge, the third bridge on the Bosphorous strait connecting the European and Asian continents, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will participate the Belt and Road Forum, Beijing's ambitious logistics and trade plan, on May 14 and 15, responding to an invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of the forum to discuss "further enhancing of the already satisfactory relations," according to presidential sources in Ankara.
Turkey's diplomatic relations with China were established in 1971. Both counties have proven to be the rising stars of the world economy towards the end of the first decade of the 21th century.
The bilateral trade volume was 27 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, mostly Turkey's imports from China. Ankara is seeking for a more balanced trade partnership and inciting Chinese investors to be implicated in major infrastructure schemes.
China made also some serious breakthroughs in Turkey's high-speed railway, building a major line between Istanbul and Ankara, a project worth 1.2 billion dollars.
"Obviously, this ambitious project is one of the instruments for China's drive to be in favor of open global trade. Turkey and China can find a joint cause in defending free trade and globalization," wrote international affairs expert Unal Cevikoz in his column in Hurriyet Daily News.
"Turkey's opening to China and China's integration with the world play an important role in development of the world economy in general," said Cevikoz, a retired ambassador.
The expert also believed that the initiative would lead to further integration and connectivity between the countries in the region in the fields of trade, production and infrastructure, making it possible to create more jobs and benefits for people.
At the platform, all participants could discuss the joint development of the project and share the benefits of win-win cooperation, said Guven Sak, the executive director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation (Tepav), a respected thinktank based in Ankara.
The expert noted that the world is facing the challenges such as Brexit, the refugee crisis, regional conflicts, terrorism. But he was confident that the initiative would continue to make progress and facilitate the recovery of economies.
"China has a role to play in international crisis as a source of moderation, which stems from her very old culture .... and Turkey has to take a lesson from the (economic) transformation of China," indicated this economist.
With relations with Europe at all time low and Turkey willing to decrease its dependence on western allies, some fear that a NATO country such as Turkey, traditionally and historically turned on towards the West, is making a mistake trying to establish more profound links with powers of the East, such as Russia and China, but analysts think that in this global world this is inevitable.
President Erdogan made state visits recently to Russia and India, another economic powerhouse of the region.
"Turkey is certainly not shifting its policy in international relations from the West towards the East. It is only natural that countries which have a lot to offer to each other come together and work on shared interests on a win-win basis," argued Ersin Ercin.
This view is also shared by Bahadir Pehlivanturk, professor of international relations department at TOBB University. He told Xinhua that it will be "unrealistic" for Turkey to turn its back to the East and in this particular case to a project that will bring her even closer to the nations of Asia with whom she has close cultural ties.