ANKARA — Turkey on Wednesday defended its decision to enter talks with China to acquire its first long-range anti-missile system, in spite of protests from its ally Washington.
It also made clear that no deal had yet been finalised.
"The Chinese gave us the best price," Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz told Vatan newspaper, explaining that the system's Chinese manufacturer had agreed to a co-production deal with Turkey.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said talks were to begin with the Chinese company, but made it clear that the selection process was still ongoing.
"The process has not yet been finalised," he said.
In an official statement last week, Turkey said it has "decided to begin talks with the CPMIEC company of the People's Republic of China for the joint production of the systems and its missiles in Turkey".
China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp (CPMIEC) beat out competition from a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, Russia's Rosoboronexport, and the Italian-French consortium Eurosamrs in the tender.
The original contract was worth a reported $4 billion dollars, but the Chinese bid reportedly came in at a much lower $3 billion according to Turkish media.
The United States reacted with alarm to news that Ankara had chosen the Chinese firm, slapped with US sanctions for delivering arms to Iran and Syria, to build the air defence and anti-missile system.
"We had asked for joint production and a technology transfer," the Turkish minister said. "If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can."
NATO member Turkey is a key regional ally to the United States, and currently has US-built Patriot missile systems deployed on its border to deter incoming attacks from Syria.
Turkey wants to build its own long-range air defence and anti-missile architecture to counter both enemy aircraft and missiles.
NATO has also raised concerns over possible compatibility issues between the Chinese-made system and others used within the alliance.
Yilmaz dismissed its concerns, saying: "There is no problem on that front."
The foreign ministry confirmed that Turkey had been in talks with NATO over the past few days, with Gumrukcu saying that the exchange of views with NATO allies was "only natural."