ANKARA, July 25 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad arrived here last night for the first official visit of his current term, to a warm reception by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself.
The prime minister and his entourage arrived at the Esenboga Airport at around 8pm, welcomed by the Turkish Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank, and the Governor of Ankara Vasip Sahin.
They were joined by Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, and the Malaysian ambassador to Turkey Datuk Abd Razak Abdul Wahab.
Erdogan met Dr Mahathir for a quick private chat ahead of the official event scheduled later today as befitting the status of the visit that was upgraded to a national level.
The prime minister was later welcomed by the International Trade and Industry Minister Darell Leiking and the Malaysian delegate at his hotel.
Defence set to dominate agenda
Abd Razak told the press in an earlier session on Tuesday that defence will likely be heavily discussed during the visit along with trade, with Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu also to join the delegate this morning.
Dr Mahathir will start his day by laying a wreath at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — an idol here, but demonised by many Muslims in Malaysia who blamed him for the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the mightiest and the last of the Muslim caliphates.
The PM will then visit Turkish Aerospace Industries, where the Malaysian delegate is expected to consider its offerings of military aircrafts and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — ostensibly attractive proposals as Malaysia looks for more affordable choices after its defence spending was cut.
This comes amid Turkish’s growing ambition to ramp up its defence industry and exports, with UAV production reportedly a key focus of its plan.
Turkey has also recently came under fire from the United States and its NATO allies for breaking sanctions and purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia, with an eye on co-producing the anti-aircraft arsenal with the superpower.
Malaysia will likely be a kindred spirit, with both Malaysian and Turkish hospitality — if not pivot — towards Russia, likely to garner international attention and scrutiny.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered fighter jets for sale last year as Malaysia mulled bartering for them with palm oil.
Dr Mahathir has also recently raised eyebrows internationally for defending Russia over a finding incriminating the latter for the deadly downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Will Dr M, Erdogan speak up on human rights?
Today’s meeting will bring together two of the Muslim world's most respected and influential — but also arguably globally divisive — personalities, who are propping themselves as alternative leaders against the hegemony of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Both Dr Mahathir and Erdogan have been critical of Western powers, with the Malaysian prime minister stepping his criticism against Israel in his most recent international appearances.
The two are set to discuss not only the plight of the Palestinian, but also the Rohingya minorities during today’s discussions.
But it is uncertain whether the two will also concoct a more forceful response on behalf of the Muslim world towards China’s apparent oppression of Muslim minorites, especially the much maligned Uighurs.
Both Malaysia and Turkey were conspicuously absent from a joint letter by 22 countries to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this month condemning China’s "mass arbitrary detentions and related violations” against the Uighurs — much like the rest of the Muslim world.
Erdogan, previously a harsh critic of China’s move, recently softened his tone after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier this month, saying a solution could be found “taking into account the sensitivities” of both sides.
Meanwhile, Putrajaya was recently slammed after minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa was reported toeing China’s position, and also referred to an Uighur detention or “re-education” camp as a “training and vocational institution” during his Beijing visit. He has since claimed his speech was taken out of context.
Dr Mahathir and wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali will call on Erdogan at his Presidential Complex today afternoon, followed by a delegation meeting and a joint press conference, before joining an official dinner.
The prime minister and the Malaysian delegation will subsequently leave for their next leg of the visit to Istanbul tomorrow morning.