Although Ankara had signaled its openness to buying its future air and missile defenses from China over competing US and European systems, last week’s decision in favor of Beijing’s HQ-9 system was still stunning.
While Turkish officials stress price was a deciding factor — China bid low to win the $4 billion contract — analysts say it’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish move.
No matter how good China’s product is — and that remains to be seen — NATO will be unlikely to share its air defense secrets with a Chinese company, given that China has aggressively sought to obtain the details of US and European air and missile systems.
Worse, Washington in February sanctioned the maker of the system — China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. — for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
In that light, Turkey’s decision, approved by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is even more perplexing, given that Turkey is a key NATO member and ideally situated to play a leading role in the alliance’s air and missile defense plans.
The winner here is China, which has proven it can sell a major system to a sophisticated buyer and is now poised to gain important industrial and military insights — and market cachet.
Turkey, meanwhile, stands to lose. Instead of improving its security, it will likely end up with a stand-alone system that will never be fully integrated with NATO air and missile defenses. All the while, irritating long-time allies who are left to question Ankara’s strategic aims.
Turkey must reconsider its decision.