Turkey, China cooperation on ballistic missiles not new

Turkish defense industry insiders are dismayed with US pressure on Turkey for it reaching a deal with China, as this is not the first time they have cooperated.

al-monitor Old missiles on display at the China Aviation Museum on the outskirts of Beijing, Aug. 17, 2010. Photo by REUTERS/David Gray.

Topics covered

us-turkish relations, turkey, nato, missiles, military, china, arms, agreement

Dec 13, 2013

The United States is ramping up the pressure on Turkey to give up on its decision to go ahead with the deal it reached with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) to acquire a long-range anti-missile system. What troubles the United States with this deal is not only that this Chinese firm is subject to US sanctions but also — in the words of a US defense industry insider speaking to Al-Monitor — “China has actually figured out how to penetrate the NATO arms market, and this is an unprecedented coup that has woken up a lot of people.”

In the 2014 military spending bill, the US Congress has taken up the task to make this purchase for Turkey undesirable. If the bill passes as proposed, it will ban the use of US money to integrate Chinese missile defense systems with US or NATO systems, meaning Turkey would be forced to spend a whole lot more to benefit from this system in any meaningful way — it will not mean a thing without it being incorporated with the remaining essential parts of an operational system.

Merrill Lynch also announced its withdrawal last week from bidding to underwrite Turkish defense contractor Aselsan’s second public offering, which can only be interpreted as yet another signal by the United States to Turkey not to go ahead with this deal.

Defense Industry Undersecretary Murad Bayar said on Dec. 6, however, “What we propose to other companies that show up as the second or third best alternative is to keep their offers updated at all times. While it will not be accurate to say that the time of competition and bidding continues, it is fair to say that if we can’t get the result we wish for from our first pick, we will be interested in your proposals.”

Essentially, Turkey continues to make two points: it's determined to prioritize a technology transfer as part of this purchase and it's not the first time Turkey is cooperating with China. An insider in the Turkish defense industry told Al-Monitor to take a look at the history of Turkey’s efforts to develop ballistic missiles since the late 1970s, and how there was cooperation with China and Pakistan on projects like J-600T Yildirim (Thunderbolt). In effect, Turkey has been trying to diversify its resources for over four decades.

As a NATO member and a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) since 1997 — which was established in 1987 by an informal group of industrialized countries and today has 34 member nations — Turkey must abide by its controls on the transfer of missile technology. The MTCR's official site states: “While concern has traditionally focused on state proliferators, after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, it became evident that more also has to be done to decrease the risk of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) delivery systems falling into the hands of terrorist groups and individuals. One way to counter this threat is to maintain vigilance over the transfer of missile equipment, material and related technologies usable for systems capable of delivering WMD.”

Turkey continues to argue, however, that it has to be able to prove some sort of superiority and independence to match its prestigious stature as a regional power. In that light, Turkish defense industry insiders say that they have started working on new software, which will be developed by a US company that would allow them to integrate this Chinese system into the NATO system. However, diplomatic sources made it abundantly clear to Al-Monitor that the United States will not even consider taking the risk of integrating a Chinese system into theirs and therefore NATO’s system, as these ballistic missiles are made up of a software that could easily contain a virus, which could allow the Chinese to have access to the NATO or US defense system. “No one will ever take this risk,” a diplomatic source told Al-Monitor.

Still, this does not change the fact that Turkey continues to give mixed signals as to where it is heading regarding the deal with the Chinese firm. It is, however, a fact that this is not the first time for Turkey to cooperate with China on defense issues, as the Turkish defense industry insiders emphasized in a conversation with Al-Monitor.

Moreover, insiders in the Turkish defense industry told Al-Monitor that other NATO members have also cooperated with China and that Turkey is not a first in that respect. However, Turkey’s needs could be different from theirs, which — for Turkey — does still not justify this mounting pressure to quit the deal with Beijing.

The diplomatic community that Al-Monitor has talked to in Ankara speculates with a sense of certainty that Turkey will not be able to resist the US pressure, and subsequently the deal with China may soon fade away.

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