Two of the world's most ancient and grand civilizations are now also among the fastest-growing economies on the modern stage.

They are also extending their bilateral trade relations, reflecting their growing dominance in global financial affairs.

Turkey and China may seem like vastly different nations, but they actually have ancient links and some cultural commonalities.

Last week, when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (widely considered to be the next leader of China) visited Turkey, the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade fourfold -- from the present $24 billion level to $100 billion by the year 2020.

For the moment, trade between Ankara and Beijing is heavily weighted in China's favor – Chinese products have bombarded Turkish markets, while Turkish exports to China are rather modest (primarily from Turkey's mining sector).

In 2011, China exported $21.6 billion of goods to Turkey, while the Turks sent about $2.5 billion of Turkish goods to Beijing.

Turkish officials are unhappy with this trade imbalance and want the Chinese to upgrade their investments in Anatolia.
Turkey's Economy Minister Zafer Ça?layan said during a speech while hosting Chinese dignitaries: “We must increase the number and scale of such mutual business forums and trade fairs to better understand each other.”

During the economic forum last week, Turkish and Chinese businesses signed 28 contracts valued at a total of $1.38 billion. Ça?layan said $500 million would comprise Turkish exports to China; $570 million would involve financial support from Chinese companies to Turkey; while another $308.5 million would be allocated to energy projects and partnerships.

Xi himself stated at the forum: “Our economies are not competing, but they are complementary [to] each other. … We should see this potential and work accordingly for joint projects on both sides as well as in third countries.”

China and Turkey are seeking to cooperate on numerous other projects, both business/trade deals as well as increased mutual tourism goals and cultural exchanges.

Chinese firms are particularly interested in Turkish transportation and infrastructure projects, including the multi-billion dollar Kanal ?stanbul, a canal that will connect the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

In the crucial area of energy, Turkey seeks to develop nuclear power – again, China could play a large role in this enterprise.
“We will start the talks with Chinese authorities and officials regarding nuclear energy,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan during the forum.

According to Turkish media reports, Ankara envisions having three operational atomic plants by 2023 (the first one will be built by a Russian company).

The central banks of the two countries also agreed to enter into a three-year currency swap deal which will facilitate increased bilateral trade.

Xi praised Turkey's growing importance in economic and geo-strategic affairs.

A member of the G20 with a growing economy and an important country in the Middle East, Turkey has for a long time tried to bring stability and development to the region and played an active role in trying to solve 'hot' issues, Xi told Turkey's Sabah newspaper.

Moreover, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an plans to journey to Beijing in April.

In fact, Turkey has designated 2012 as the “Year of Chinese Culture.”

Situated at opposite ends of the vast Asian continent, Turkey and China have more in common than would be apparent to the naked eye.

Modern Turks are largely descended from Turkic peoples who originated in Central and East Asia and migrated westward centuries ago.

Diplomatic and cultural links, which often trod along the legendary Silk Road, connected the Turks' ancestors and China from as long ago as the third century BC.

The Turks and Chinese also share many cultural values.

Dr. Ça?da? Üngör, a China specialist and lecturer at Marmara University, told the Turkish Today's Zaman newspaper: “When I was in China, I was impressed by how the Chinese give importance to their family. People respect the elders and look after the young. Moreover, both Turks and Chinese enjoy a marvelous food culture -- we have great cuisines, we love spending time cooking. Like the Turks, Chinese people never eat alone; they have food together with family or friends and share food with each other.”

Üngör added: “In Turkey we call China a Far Eastern country, which sounds very distant, only when you are in China can you realize how close the Turkish and Chinese are.”

Not only are more Chinese tourists visiting Turkey, but more Turks are moving to China to study.

Dr. Jingyuan Qiu, a teacher in the Chinese language and literature department at Fatih University, told Today's Zaman: “Nowadays, trade between China and Turkey is booming. Most of my students want to be Chinese translators after graduation. In Turkey it is a very good job choice with excellent pay.”

In addition, while most people don't associate China with Islam, millions in the western frontier of China are Muslims.

Safia Liping Ma, a Chinese Hui Muslim who lives in Istanbul, told Today's Zaman: “We pray in the same manner. We share some of the mystical Sufi ideas. Also, when I was in China, I found Turkish religious scholars’ books in bookshops near mosques, such as Fethullah Gülen and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s works. They are well translated into Chinese. Many of my friends read these books and like them very much.”

Perhaps the closest cultural, religious and ethnological links between Turkey and China can be found in the Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people who live in China’s far west Xinjiang region.

The Uighurs have some startling similarities with the Turks and there even exists an Uighur community in Turkey of several thousand, after many fled the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949.

However, given that the Uighurs are fighting for autonomy from Beijing, this linkage could conceivably cause some problems between Turkey and China.

Indeed, during Xi's visit to Turkey, Chinese Uighurs protested by burning Chinese flags in Ankara.

Beijing has been accused of committing abuses and atrocities against Uighur demonstrators during a crackdown in July 2009. In fact, at that time Erdogan described China's actions as “almost genocide.”

The Beijing government has also been encouraging the mass migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang in order to dilute the Uighur presence in the region.

At one point, Turks aggressively supported the Uighurs behind the banner: “A Turkic World from the Adriatic Sea to the Great Wall” -- suggesting a solidarity between the Uighurs and Turks, despite the huge geographical distance between them.

By 1997, Turkish foreign policy began to favor the Chinese, through a number of arms and trade deals.

Moreover, while China and Turkey are both helping Iran fight off western sanctions, Ankara and Beijing have drastically opposing views on Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Ankara has joined the West in demanding Assad step down while supporting Syrian opposition groups. In stark contrast, China (along with Russia) remains supportive of Assad and vehemently rejects any foreign military intervention in Syria.

Of course, given the wide swath of issues that large complex nations like Turkey and China must both face, some disagreements are bound to emerge. However, it seems crystal clear that the overall relationship between Ankara and Beijing will only grow deeper for years to come.