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Untapped Potential
Turkish ambassador discusses the future of bilateral tourism
 NO. 18 MAY 3, 2018
Abdulkadir Emin Onen, Turkish Ambassador to China (COURTESY PHOTO)

Shortly after the 2018 Turkey Tourism Year in China kicked off in Beijing on April 17, Abdulkadir Emin Onen, Turkish Ambassador to China, spoke with Beijing Review reporter Li Nan about tourism and bilateral ties between China and Turkey. An edited excerpt of this interview follows:

Beijing Review: How is Turkey working to increase the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Turkey? What challenges do you think Turkey will face?

Abdulkadir Emin Onen: We aim to become among the top five countries in the world in terms of attracting tourists.

Turkey's tourism revenue rose to $26.3 billion in 2017, with 77.4 percent of this earned from foreign visitors. Statistics show that tourists coming to Turkey mostly hail from Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Caucasia and the United States.

Due to the fact that 130 million Chinese tourists traveled abroad last year, they will undoubtedly contribute to boosting Turkey's tourism sector. In 2017, 240,000 Chinese tourists visited Turkey. There is indeed untapped potential. We are working hard to boost this number.

The 2018 Turkey Tourism Year in China offers great opportunities. Our goal is to host around 500,000 Chinese tourists in 2018 and reach 1 million and more in the coming years.

However, flight capacity between Turkey and China is a major obstacle. In this regard, we are aiming to increase flight frequencies and destinations. Turkish Airlines would like to extend its operations to several Chinese destinations other than Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong in the near future.

We also encourage Chinese airlines to launch direct flights to and from Turkey. To this end, our relevant agencies are maintaining close contacts to strengthen Turkish-Chinese civil aviation cooperation.

I should also add that Turkish and Chinese tour operators need to work closely to offer the best alternatives for Chinese tourists in Turkey. The tourism market in China should also be more accessible for Turkish operators, so that members of the Turkish tourism sector can travel back and forth between China and Turkey to work on business arrangements with Chinese counterparts without any hindrance.

Safety is the first priority for most Chinese tourists. What is Turkey doing to ensure the safety of foreign tourists? What kind of help and assistance does Turkey offer tourists when they are in danger?

Terrorism is the most dangerous enemy of humankind. It is unpredictable and often random in its targets.

At home, Turkey has not witnessed any terror attacks since 2016. Security checks have been tightened, particularly in transport services and places of interest for tourists.

The indiscriminate nature of terrorism still poses a threat not only to Turkey but to the whole world. Terrorist attacks which have claimed the lives of innocent people in Brussels, Paris, London, Manchester and Barcelona are proof of this. For instance, the country to experience the highest number of fatal terror attacks in Europe is the United Kingdom with 76 incidents in 2016. France is second with 23. Unfortunately, due to the evolving nature of terrorism, no country or city is immune from terrorist attacks.

Turkish law enforcement forces are efficient and responsive when it comes to the security concerns of foreigners in Turkey. Security measures are carefully balanced to provide the safety for everyone to enjoy daily life free from hindrance, but still tight enough to deter any potential malicious intent.

If Chinese tourists have any problems during their stay in Turkey, they can ask for help from the Turkish authorities. They can also easily seek consular assistance from the Chinese Embassy in Ankara or consulates general in Istanbul and Izmir.

Turkey, like many countries around the globe including China, suffered from terrorist attacks in the past. Our own struggle against this menace has taught us the crucial lesson that we cannot succeed in our counterterrorism efforts in the absence of international cooperation.

Accordingly, Turkey has been at the forefront of efforts to increase the awareness of the international community in regard to the threat of terrorism. We have worked hard bilaterally and through various international platforms to create mechanisms for more effective counterterrorism measures.

Turkey has always stated that terrorism poses a major threat to international peace and security. All acts of terrorism are unjustified regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and committed by whomever.

There should be increased cooperation between states on the basis of the "extradite or prosecute" principle in order to deny any safe haven to terrorists. Furthermore, the international community should not discriminate between terrorist organizations and must act with equal determination in preventing, suppressing, pursuing and prosecuting all terrorist groups, their members and activities.

Any attempt to affiliate terrorism with any religion or ethnic group is utterly wrong and plays into the hands of the terrorists themselves.

The growing threat of terrorism in the past few years has greatly increased the importance of international cooperation. What we are faced with today is unprecedented. There is a drastic proliferation of terrorist groups all around the world that possess an enhanced capacity to inflict serious physical damage coupled with an increasing ability to disseminate their narratives to lure disillusioned young people to commit heinous forms of violence.

Acts of terrorism that indiscriminately affect innocent people, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, have become all the more common across the world. As such, terrorism has become a truly global and rapidly evolving threat.

To address this growing threat, a rapid, effective and coordinated global response has become a necessity.

The number of Turkish tourists traveling to China is lower than that of Chinese tourists traveling to Turkey. Why is this the case?

If we compare the populations of Turkey and China, it is not surprising that more people from China are traveling to Turkey than the other way round. Both leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Xi Jinping, have agreed to strengthen bilateral ties across all fields, particularly in people-to-people interactions. Tourism is a great asset to realize the vision of our leaders.

Both countries should be more active in introducing their cultures to each other.

Turkey is perfectly located close to European, Mediterranean and other popular tourism destinations; therefore Turkish tourists until recently preferred shorter distances when it came to vacations.

This trend also had something to do with the preference for road travel in the past, since air travel was not as common as it is today. But travel practices are now changing. More Turkish tourists want to explore Asia, particularly China. There is undoubtedly a growing interest among Turkish tourists to see China.

However, we still have to work together to overcome some obstacles. Firstly, the Chinese authorities' visa policy needs to be revisited. Secondly, as I have mentioned, flight frequency and destinations should be increased so as to carry more passengers between the two countries. I believe that we will achieve a dramatic increase in the number of travelers between Turkey and China once we make progress in these two fields.

What's your view on Sino-Turkish relations? Which fields will see further cooperation between the two countries?

Bilateral ties between Turkey and China, two ancient civilizations, date back thousands of years. The Silk Road has played a prominent role in our relations throughout the centuries.

Bilateral relations have been developing steadily. Turkey and China have enjoyed strategic cooperation since 2010. The geographic gates of the Silk Road in Europe and Asia are now tied again hand in hand, this time, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The determination of both sides to further cooperation and take this relationship to a new level has been demonstrated in recent years by several high-level visits. President Erdogan and President Xi have met four times in two years.

Both presidents have also exchanged very warm messages on the occasion of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress and the reelection of Xi as the president of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

President Erdogan and President Xi talked on the phone on April 19, exchanging views on bilateral ties as well as regional and global issues of common concern including Syria.

I should state with pleasure that under President Xi's leadership and guidance, the PRC has made great strides in many fields and relations between Turkey and China have gained significant momentum in this period. This relationship has a very bright future.

Undoubtedly, the key areas of this relationship are trade and investment, culture and tourism.

Furthermore, being two responsible members of the international community, both Turkey and China have significant roles to play in facing the current challenges of the world. There is a vast area for cooperation in which our countries can tackle current issues, both at the bilateral level and through multilateral platforms.

What is the current state of the Turkish economy and investment climate? What are the prospects for Chinese investors?

Turkey, a G20 member alongside China, is the 17th largest economy in the world, the sixth largest in Europe and the fastest growing economy among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

In 2017, Turkey grew by 7.4 percent, while in the third quarter of 2017, the country's growth rate was around 11 percent, making Turkey the fastest growing economy among the G20 countries.

In the last decade, mega projects amounting to $250 billion have been completed, including large-scale energy and infrastructure investments—which China is very good at.

Many mega projects are under construction or in the planning stage. Turkey is constructing a third airport in Istanbul, a $40 billion project. When completed, the new Istanbul Airport will be the world's largest in terms of annual passenger capacity.

Turkey's comprehensive economic reform agenda in the last decade has also resulted in robust foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. Turkey attracted around $180 billion of FDI over the past 14 years, $12.3 billion in 2016 alone.

Bilateral trade between Turkey and China currently stands at around $28 billion.

The total number of Chinese companies operating in Turkey has reached 1,000. Chinese companies have already established successful businesses in sectors such as banking, construction of power plants, infrastructure, IT, mining, agriculture and transportation.

There are Chinese giants that have chosen to invest in Turkey, such as Huawei, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, ZTE, AVIC-International, Norinco, New Hope and Shanghai Electric.

I invite Chinese people to invest in Turkey. They will not only be investing in Turkey, but in a Belt and Road partner country, as well as in a broader geography.

Turkey is perfectly located. A natural bridge on the East-West and North-South axes, thus creating an efficient and cost-effective outlet to major markets. Easy access to 1.6 billion customers in Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa. Access to multiple markets worth $24 trillion of GDP. From Istanbul you can reach up to 1.6 billion people in 57 different countries in four hours.

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to linan@bjreview.com

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