Despite criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey would only give up co-producing a long-range air and missile defense system with a Chinese firm currently under US sanctions if the company were to decide to pull out of the deal, leading Turkey to talk to other bidders, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Speaking to journalists while returning from his Kosovo trip on Thursday, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey will go ahead with purchasing the Chinese defense system as the firm is the only one that is willing to co-produce the defense system with Turkey and is also offering the cheapest contract price.
“Following the Chinese defense system, co-production of France and Italy comes with an extra $1 billion, followed by the US with an extra $1.2 billion and Russia requires $4 billion extra and Russian's system is the best in terms of quality and range,” Erdogan said.
A source from a NATO member country, speaking to the Radikal daily on Friday, said, however, that two other bidder companies had also promised technology transfer and co-production but China's bid was the cheapest.
The same diplomat also told the daily that although it appears that the Chinese company will be transferring technology to Turkey during the co-production of the missile system, the Chinese firm will be making use of Turkish engineers' ability to work with the US and European countries in production of defense systems, a gain that outstrips Turkey's benefits in the co-production of FD-2000 system. The diplomat recalled that China was the number one company in “industrial espionage.”
NATO sources also told the daily that Turkey will have to share many of its “military secrets” with the Chinese company while integrating the FD-2000 missile system into its own defense system. “It will be nothing but giving the key to the NATO defense system's back door to the Chinese company,” said one source.
Washington and NATO have reiterated their concerns over Turkey's decision to select a Chinese missile system for its long-term, long-range missile and aerial defense program, codenamed T-Loramids -- a move that angered the US, saying the system would not be compatible with those of Turkey's other allies.
“My answer to NATO is that nine of its members still hold Russian made missiles. They had to get those missiles out of their inventory. The Chinese system will be checked to see if it fits NATO standards,” Erdogan said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated on Tuesday that arms purchases were national decisions but stressed the importance of interoperability between the systems nations plan to acquire and the systems of other NATO countries.
The NATO sources who spoke to the Turkish daily also claimed that Turkey in the past criticized Greece and NATO ally countries for their purchase of Russian S-300 missiles, citing the “security risk” the missiles might pose to NATO countries.
Another NATO official, Oana Lungescu, said at a press conference on Monday that the organization couldn't be more worried about the Chinese-made air-defense system's interoperability with the alliance's integrated defense systems.
China dismissed concerns about Turkey's decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with the Chinese firm, China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC), saying that the US and others were needlessly politicizing a purely commercial deal.
CPMIEC was sanctioned by the United States in February for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
“The cooperation between the Chinese firm and Turkey is normal military cooperation between the two countries. We hope that all relevant parties can objectively and rationally view this cooperation, and should not politicize normal commercial competition,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Chunying added that there was nothing to worry about, especially as China had very strict rules on arms exports to ensure no impact on regional or global peace and stability.
As the debate concerning the Chinese company continued, Liu Qibao, the head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, paid a visit to Turkey on Friday to have talks with top Turkish officials. A Chinese delegation headed by Qibao met with Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag on Friday in a meeting closed to the press. The Chinese publicity minister was also received by President Abdullah Gul later in the day. Sources from the Presidency said Qibao delivered a letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping to Gul.
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