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The rise of China has been one of the core subjects of the 21st century since such a transition in the status quo threatens to change the balance of power in the world. This phenomenon became mainstream to a point in which expectations on Chinese growth started to evolve into predictions on the possibility of new world order. Whether China poses a threat to the international system or not, one thing seems clear: China has its unique characteristics when it comes to its domestic and foreign policy. China as an oppressive state towards its nation and as an assertive neighbor within the region requires careful foreign policies. Taking various debates over China's growth and its extraordinary qualities into account, this research targets to combine different debates over China to constitute a framework for Sino-Turkish foreign policy.

Keywords: China, human rights violations, economic power, Sino-Turkish relations, foreign policy.


For the past 40 years, China has seen considerable economic growth through its new reforms. The reconstruction of New China was followed by political and social changes soon after, making the comeback of Yellow Dragon one of the most significant focuses of international relations ever since. This trend, which was fueled by the new Chinese sentiments such as the Chinese Dream[1], eventually transformed itself into various social and cultural divisions within China. Considering where China is today and where it projects to be in the future, it is more than urgent to question the place of international cooperation in China's agenda. Moreover, it is crucial to inquire how relations with China should be formed, regardless of the controversial human rights violations within its borders.  Taking these concerns into account, in this paper, I will try to discuss these questions along with possible outcomes of the increasing Chinese influence within the Asia-Pacific region.


First and foremost, China should be examined within the historical context. One of the most striking historical strength of China is the Chinese antiquity and culture. The shared common history of Chinese people is noticeably unique since no other group in the world shared such a long-lasting collective culture longer (Mahapatra & Ratha, 2014: 1164). China has an intense historical establishment of a culture that constitutes one of the primary sources of Chinese identity today. Cultural identity enriched with nationalistic sentiments play a fundamental role in domestic Chinese politics, reflecting its mindset towards its foreign policy; furthermore, guiding China to reach a more distinguished position in the global system.

China has numerous advantages when it comes to becoming a world superpower. These factors vary from its large population and territory to China's efforts to develop within essential fields such as technology or military. To assert its dominance within regional disputes along with becoming an influential state within international relations, China spends a considerable amount of the Chinese budget towards increasing hard power. Besides its rich cultural background, one of the main driving forces of the emergence of China's potential is economic transformation. China's economic progress maintains Chinese political and military implications. Chinese economy plays a centric role in favor of Chinese national interests.        

2.1. The Historical Background of China’s Economic Transformation

In the 1950s, in order to break free from "the poverty trap made by the law of limit to land productivity," China embraced the Stalinist development approach and forwarded much of farm surplus into state investment (Pei, 2018: 91). This situation produced a "dual economy with investments concentrated on heavy industry and a vast surplus labor in agriculture, and in between a development gap of light industry." Initially, China used to be one of the poorest nations in the world at the time.

The contradictory beliefs over socialism in China are striking. Even though China is known for its communist ruling party, and it is described as a socialist country by its leaders, such socialism doesn't exist in China anymore (Lotta 2019: 29). After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the neo-capitalist group of the leading figure, Deng Xiaoping, carried out a military coup that eradicated socialism and replaced it with a new capitalist system in October 1976 (Lotta 2019: 29).

In late 1970, efforts to reduce poverty in China started to respond. Especially during 1978 and after, Angang, Linlin, & Zhixiao state "the average growth rate of per capita GDP has been up to 8.1%." These rapid growths marked the increase of China's income per capita as the fastest in the world. However, this economic expansion of China was different from those of other countries like Hong Kong and Singapore (Angang, Linlin, & Zhixiao). China had a largely rural population; therefore, these developments were also diminishing the amount of the rural poverty population. Moreover, the economic improvements in China were making changes within the global poverty reduction.

The economic dynamics of China are complex, and the institutional foundations of the Chinese economy are thanks to its reforms, which are controversial. Numerous economists claim that the practice of gradualism as well as the bottom-up method with competition across different provinces (Goodhart & Xu, 1996:62). Local governments were given the responsibility to over the state expenditures, creating a region-based system that provides the supply and demand chain between the regions controlled by the central government (Goodhart & Xu, 1996:62). Local governments made around 60% of the fixed asset investments in the mid-1970s (Goodhart & Xu, 1996:62).

According to Rosnick, Weisbrot, & Wilson (2017: 3): " If we go back a bit further, and look at the period from 1981 to 2010, it is even more a story of Chinese success: about 94 percent of the reduction of extreme poverty was in China." This rapid economic change in China came with unusual practices. Unlike other developing countries, China didn't establish a neoliberal economy nor adapted any neoliberal policies at the time.

Instead of neoliberal strategies Rosnick, Weisbrot, & Wilson (2017: 3) describes the economic establishment as follows: "They maintained state control over the banking system, had strict currency controls and a huge role for state-owned enterprises, and until recently the state controlled most investment. Foreign investment was regulated to make it compatible with state development planning."

China has acquired the label of the world's second-largest economy in 2008. According to the World Development Indicators issued in 2008, China is the second-biggest market based on purchasing power parity in addition to being the biggest receiver of foreign direct investment (Martins, 2009: 123). Factors like the comprehensive young and cheap labor force, high foreign investment, and the advancement of China's industrialization that allows China to produce high-profit consumption goods (Martins, 2009: 123). To keep boosting China's progress towards becoming the main manufacturing base, which according to Martins (2009: 123):" producing and also assembling goods imported from other poorer Asian countries to sell to developed countries," the Chinese government keeps supporting industrialization.

2.2. The Future Expectations on China

Future expectations for China were set way earlier than the promising results of China's great economic transformation. Some of the best early predictions were made by diplomats and scholars on the rise of China. For instance, Henry A. Kissinger (2005) published an eye-catching article named “China: Containment Won’t Work” on China in The Washington Post, which stated as follows: "The rise of China – and of Asia – will, over the next decades, bring about a substantial reordering of the international system. The center of gravity of world affairs is shifting from the Atlantic, where it was lodged for the past three centuries, to the Pacific. The most rapidly developing countries are in Asia, with a growing means to vindicate their perception of the national interest."

Recent studies support previous expectations about China. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) reports that China's successful management of the COVID-19 crisis promises China to replace the US as the world's largest economy by 2028, which is five years earlier than their former expectations (BBC, 2020). In addition to the expanding expectations on the future of the Chinese economy, one has to mention China's One Belt One Road initiative. Once again, having its root in Chinese history, this initiative aims to resurrect the old Silk Road that had served the Chinese economy during its glorious times. It is noteworthy that the One Belt One Road project is aiming to construct the new old, The Modern Silk Road. China is expected to become "the top supplier of the manufactured goods to Central Asia as well as top consumer of agricultural output and resources of Central Asia," meaning that the implementation of the project will change the viability of regions and countries (Sarker, Hossin, & Yin 2018: 633).

According to Joseph Nye (2020): "The United States (along with other countries) has valid complaints about Chinese economic behavior, such as the theft of intellectual property and subsidies to state-owned companies that have tilted the playing field in trade. Moreover, there are important security reasons for the United States and others to avoid becoming dependent on Chinese companies like Huawei for 5G wireless telecommunications." Comparing the Chinese reactions to the these concerns, when Google or Facebook wanted to operate in China -China "for security reasons" does not allow most foreign corporations to operate within its "Great Firewall"- and how China refused it, a Chinese-held technical standard appears as a security concern for the rest of the world. 

Nye's another significant evaluation of the United States-China race is the U.S.'s weakening domestic battles over culture (SINGH & Nye, 2012: 165). The slowly disappearing American soft-power worldwide could be replaced by the Chinese soft-power. Although Joseph Nye agrees with the fact that China is a rapidly emerging power in his book named "The Future of Power," he doesn't believe China is capable of challenging the United States by apposing major threats to the United States (SINGH & Nye, 2012: 165). He backs up his argument by "the United States's strong military build-ups and soft power advantages (SINGH & Nye, 2012: 165)."

One of the most popular debates over the rise of China is China's future within the global world order.  Zhao (2016: 19) argues that "although the rise of China has caused concerns in the US and other parts of the world that China is to assert itself in its region and further afield and become a revolutionary power to undermine the existing world order, China is still abided largely by the established rules of the world order, engaging in reforms to revise rather than rewrite the norms and principles." China has the potential to become the next global superpower; however, as Zhao emphasizes, China is still developing under the already existing world system; therefore, expecting such a radical change requires an event (or a new Chinese norm China will have dominance to dictate) that can affect the world on a larger scale.

Another important factor regarding China's possibility to alter itself as a superpower is China's own expectation of its future. China's strategic plans aim in 2050 to finalize the modernization of China in hopes to become a medium-level developed country (Bijian, 2005: 21). According to Bijian (2005: 21), a developed China would mean the further opening-up of the Chinese economy; consequently, a more integrated market to the rest of the world. Stemming from his assumption Bijian (2005: 24) argues that such a development would be peaceful and constructive in contrary to the common foresight of a Chinese threat to the international community.

Similar critiques against the threat discourses have been made by other scholars. For example, Al-Rodhan (2007: 44) questions Kenneth Waltz's assumptions[2] about the Chinese threat, which foresees that "China will establish hegemony in East Asia, and challenge the United States." Al-Rodhan (2007: 44) continues by referencing Richard Bernstein and Ross Murrow, who combine historical, national, and systemic factors to predict Chinese interests and likely hegemonic approaches.

Their argument cited[3] as "Driven by nationalistic sentiment, a yearning to redeem the humiliations of the past, and the simple urge for the international power, China is seeking to replace the United States as the domain power in Asia." For Al-Rodhan (2007: 45), these assumptions are too bold since the United States has been following a strategy(policy) of China's integration within the international political and economic order.

About the peaceful emergence of China, Wang (2009: 3) suggests that since 2002, "the Chinese elites, represented by Zheng Bijian, a former confidant to the current Chinese leader Hu Jintao, began to develop and disseminate the concept and idea of “peaceful rise” in an attempt to address the deep-rooted causes of the suspicion about China in the West in general and the United States in particular." Wang (2009: 3) defines Zheng's efforts as ambitious to make/prove his points through his speeches, and he believes that there is a need for a new conceptional framework for rising China as a global power excluding the emergence of China from the emergence of Germany, Japan or the Soviet Union from historical memory (Wang, 2009: 3).

Here, it is worth mentioning that the Chinese foreign policy indeed differs from those of former emerging powers. China manages a subtle form of inserting its national interests and enjoys the outcomes of its smart policies. Since the main component of Chinese growth is economic globalization and global stability, China tries to preserve the peaceful atmosphere in the regions it operates economically. As long as China is benefiting from mutual relations as well as the win-win strategy with other countries, there is no need for China to develop a different method that what it is already profiting from. Wang (2009: 4) sums his points by saying: "China’s peaceful rise will bring opportunities rather than threat to the international community."


Despite receiving positive responses in return from the international community regarding some of its policies, there are a great number of failures of the Chinese government, which are the long-debated human rights violations. These violations are souring foreign relations between China and other states as well as damaging the Chinese reputation in the international sphere.

It is well-known in the 21st century that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the supreme authority since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, implementing oppressive domestic policies (Congressional Research Service, 2020). According to Amnesty International, which "is a global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all (Amnesty International, 2018),"  China is trying to cover its human rights violations under the name of "national security." Furthermore, China is reported to show no actual progress towards the ratification of the ICCPR after twenty years (Amnesty International, 2018: 5).[4]

United States Department of State (2020) reports serious violations of human rights in China: "Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, and of predominantly Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, was more severe than in other areas of the country." Other examples of repression occur all across China, for instance, in "the case of Pastor Wang Yi, the leader of the Early Rain Church, who was charged and convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” in an unannounced, closed-door trial with no defense lawyer present. Authorities sentenced him to nine years in prison (United States Department of State, 2020)."

Extreme cases of human right violations also include "arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; substantial problems with the independence of the judiciary; physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists,... severe restrictions of religious freedom;... a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included forced sterilization or abortions; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor."

Additionally, in 2020, after the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government violated  Li Wenliang's - the case is adressed as the whistleblower doctor case- freedom of expression by rebuking her as well as implementing censorship over the unauthorized online discussions about Covid-19 (Congressional Research Service, 2020). Besides its violations against minorities, the Chinese government also limits Hong Kong’s freedoms, under the motto of “one country, two systems,” and continues with its violent threats against Hong Kong and Macau (Human Rights Watch, 2020).

When it comes to combatting these human rights violations, Lehr & Bechrakis (2021) reports that "The United States has already deployed sanctions against various CCP officials and paramilitary divisions involved in human rights abuses in the XUAR. Many of these sanctions fall under the Global Magnitsky Act, which permits the targeted use of sanctions against human rights abusers." Nonetheless, one can argue that a global consensus and collective acts are necessary to avoid diplomatic, political, or economical backlashes from China.

3.1. The Importance of Sino-Turkish Relations and the Uyghur Question

The Sino-Turkish relations have a long history due to Turk's origins prior to their migration after China’s Tang Dynasty (618­906) (Fidan, 2013). In recent history, Sino-Turkish relations carried great importance for both parties due to common interests in various foreign policy fields. Some of the main targets of the bilateral relationship between the two are consist of economic benefits.

Turkey wants to attract direct investment and technological capabilities from China as well as conducting economic cooperation projects in the Middle East (Atlı, 2016). Atlı (2016) also emphasizes Turkey's aims to "mobilize the Uyghur community in a way that would improve Turkish-Chinese relations and turn the rhetoric of “Friendship Bridge” into reality." along with targeting to "take part in the “One Belt, One Road” project. Maintain dialogue with the Chinese side about how Turkey can maximize its involvement in the project and how Turkey and China can cooperate in joint investment and construction projects along the route."

The improvement of economic relations in Sino-Turkish relations in favor of both countries, since Turkey can play a prominent role as the gateway to the west for China both in the geographic and political sense. However, there is a way more sensitive subject between the two states, which sometimes halters the positive improvements.

The Uygur Question stands as a big barrier between the states since Turkey was pressured by China for supporting the so-called Uyghur separatism in the mid-1990s (Yitzhak, 2009). Originally, in 1949, China reacted to the so-called Uyghur separatism as a national problem. Even though Chinese-Turkish diplomatic relations were formed in 1971, Uyghur activism, which was targeted at the protection and preservation of Uyghurs and their culture, was unnoticed until the 1990s (Yitzhak, 2009). At the time, Turkey's leaders accomplished to resist the Chinese pressure because they sympathized with the Uyghurs and their leader Isa Yusuf Alptekin  (Yitzhak, 2009).

However, these aims and hopes were challenged greatly by late 1995, after the Alptekin's death and the rapid emergence of China (Yitzhak, 2009). During this stage of relations, Yitzhak (2009) explains that "Ankara chose to comply with Beijing's demands, which were backed by increased trade, growing military collaboration, and China's veiled threats of support for Kurdish nationalism." That was when Uyghurs were facing the Chinese human rights violations bitterly, and some of their organizations relocated.

The significance of the Uyghur question within Sino-Turkish relations is prominent. Besides the humanity side of the efforts and the fact that most Turkish people sympathize with Uyghur Turks, there is the factor of intimidating China over Turkic Republics and Turkey through them. Turkey plays an important regional role; hence, China's attempts to assert its dominance over the Central Asia region can be achieved by inserting its power in Sino-Turkish relations. Considering the importance of Central Asia for China for its long-term projects and plans, this foreign policy is adapted well by China, prompting Turkey to find alternatives to improve it.


Through our research on the Rising China and Human Rights dilemma, notable points arose that require addressing. First of all, the rise of China is a global phenomenon that causes great debates over the emergence of China as a global superpower. There are present evaluations for the future of the Chinese power as well as the possible scale of it within the international context. These debates, combined with the current domestic and foreign policies of China, create concerns over bilateral relations.

On the one hand, China is dedicated in terms of asserting its dominance over the masses to meet its interests. Whether with oppression within its governance, or pressure on foreign relations, China is determined to achieve its goals. On the other hand, the Chinese repression and human rights violations bring attention to its wrongdoings from the international community and damaging the Chinese reputation, which is carefully avoided by China.

Here, the improvement of foreign relations with China plays a key role.  In conclusion, the development of a closer relationship can open ways to alternative solutions for conflicted subjects between the two countries. While increasing the capabilities of Sino-Turkish projects, both sides can enjoy the relations based upon mutual interests.




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[1] This term is used multiple times by Xi Jinping in his speeches to emphasize the new Chinese ideology of "Achieving Rejuvenation Is the Dream of the Chinese People." He also explains the meaning of the Chinese Dream within his book "The Governance of China." More information can be found on the government's webpage: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/xjptgoc/xjptgoc.shtml

[2] Kenneth Waltz, “Structural Realism After the Cold War,” International Security, vol. 25, No.1 (Summer, 2000), p. 32.

[3] Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro, "The Coming Conflict with America," Foreign Affairs, vol. 76, No. 2 (March-April, 1997), p. 19

[4] Amnesty International (2018) reports that: "A/HRC/25/5, recommendation 186.3 (Cape Verde), 186.4 (Czech Republic), 186.5 (Benin), 186.6 (Egypt), 186.7 (Guatemala), 186.8 (Latvia), 186.9 (Botswana) and 186.10 (New Zealand). See also A/HRC/25/5/Add.1 para 186.1, where China stated it was actively preparing for the ratification of the ICCPR. China signed the ICCPR in 1998."

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