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OBOR’ as a convergence point between China and Turkey

By Osman Hulusi Takci | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-06-02 20:04

Turkey’s ‘Contemporary Silk Road’ project has been a matter of debate since early 1990s in Turkey, but the project is yet to be put into effect by Turkish officials. In 1990s Turkey has put the strategic vision to strengthen the economic and political ties with Central Asian countries. Especially after the collapse of the SSCB, Turkey has started Contemporary Silk Road Project to play a significant role for the development of the strong relations with the newly independent countries. However, some problems concerning the lack of the political and economic capability have stand as a barrier between Turkey and those countries being on ‘Silk Road’. Although Turkey couldn’t put the idea of the reviving ‘Silk Road’ into action, China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative concerning the integration of the new Silk Road region gained popularity in the recent years. In that sense, this ambitious and striking initiative led by China may have a spectacular impact on Turkey’s economic development and the political engagement with the regional countries.

It is no doubt that China’s increasing economic capacity across the region has played important role to eliminate some strategic impediments ahead of the dream of the reviving ‘Silk Road’ in the recent years. Thanks to the China’s outstanding economic growth in the last three decades today China has become the machine of the global economic growth and has strikingly turned the strong anchor for the global economic stabilization after 2008 economic crises. As a result of the striking economic performance, China became the first and foremost investor in the world. Across the globe, Chinese infrastructure investments have enabled China to do groundwork in order to boost the bilateral relations in the economic and political fields. In this regard, ‘OBOR’ is the most attention-grabbing and inclusive project led by Chinese government. In spite of still not having concrete and certain framework about the details of this project,Chinese government has started to put the abstract ideas into action by negotiating with interested countries in the bilateral relations.

According to one of main proposals about the probable routes of the OBOR,Turkey can play significant role to bridge Asia with Europe. If China’s everincreasing interest on Middle East’s energy sources are considered, it is easy to say that Turkey as middle power can realize not only its own strategic plans but also China’s interests by robustly engaging with China and its OBOR initiative.

Turkey’s Asia Policy and Historical Constraints After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey started to seek a closer relationship with the newly independent republics. Turkey’s ties with Central Asian countries, rooted in its historical, cultural, and linguistic affinity with the region, have made Central Asia a primary target for Turkish diplomacy. In the past 25 years, Turkey significantly advanced political, economic, and cultural cooperation with Central Asian countries. And Turkey has developed close a relationship with many countries of the region.

However, there are also major projects brought forward by Turkey that have not been realized yet. Problems such as the lack of intra-regional cooperation in Central Asia, the limited economic capacity of Turkey, the inadequacy of the transportation infrastructure throughout the region, the political uncertainties in the regional countries and the chronic border disputes between those countries have made it difficult for Ankara to enhance collaboration with the regional countries further. From this perspective, projects which will enhance regional economic integration and create a zone of prosperity covering the whole region are urgently needed. In that sense, OBOR and China’s increasing investment projects in these countries is presenting large opportunities for Turkey and regional countries.

China’s Interests in Pushing for the OBOR

The project is quite important in a lot of aspects for China. Firstly, this initiative will definitely increase China’s soft power around the region and will create more sustainable economic base in the long term. In addition, enhancing regional security and eradicating the rising fundamentalism in Central Asia has strongly connected with removing all trade barriers and strengthening multilateral negotiations and organizations like One Belt One Road Initiative. In this context, thanks to these types of multilateral interactions the increasing mutual understanding will be very significant factor in order to create public awareness concerning the project in relevant countries.

As far as the economic dimension of the project is concerned, it is important to underline that China has excessive amounts of domestic savings which need to be invested abroad. With the help of the OBOR, China will have an opportunity to channel those savings into related projects from which it will derive considerable benefits in the long-term. In the end, the collective development of regional countries will contribute to the Chinese economy in the middle and long term.

OBOR’ as a New Pivot between Turkey and China

Throughout the history the overlapping interests of the different states have become the most enduring and convincing reason to make strong alliances.

Today in the early day of the new millennium China and Turkey can cooperate on the development of ‘OBOR’ across Asia. In that sense, Turkey can use its soft power to motivate Central Asian countries to involve in this project. On the other hand, China should take more concrete steps to engage with Turkey in the context of the creation of ‘OBOR’.

The largest obstacle in front of the regional trade and in-depth economic cooperation is the inadequacy of the infrastructure. Building new railroads and highways, establishing efficient airline connections, and setting up a regionally integrated transportation network will be very important steps in that regard.

Secondly, China has already reached a high stage of technological expertise different strategic areas. Therefore, Beijing can improve collaboration with both Turkey and other regional countries in the construction of new nuclear power plants and extracting some rich natural sources in those countries. In addition, the renewable energy and the mining industries can subject to be upgraded together. For this reason, China can make investment in some strategic areas in which she is suffering from the scarcity of the natural sources. From Turkey’s perspective, Turkey needs the high-technological expertise and financial support in some historic projects mentioned above.

Another important point to increase the cooperation between the sides is educational and cultural engagement. It is extremely important to increase collaboration among universities, and the first step should be establishing the Silk Road exchange program for the creation of adequate human resources that will enable true integration in the region. A common exchange program among regional countries, rather than bilateral agreements, is deemed more preferable.

For instance, the Erasmus program in the case of European universities can be taken as a model for a Silk Road exchange program.People-to-people exchanges between the Silk Road countries are still at an insufficient level. It is necessary to facilitate the free movement of people who wish to travel between Silk Road countries to conduct business, receive education, or for touristic purposes. Again, cooperation in the field of cultural industry – television, music, arts, cinema, and sports – can be promoted. In order to increase public awareness concerning the Silk Road vision, a mutual fund can be created to support movies and documentaries with relevant themes.

The last indispensable field is absolutely security and stabilization of the region.

Firstly, the border and territorial disputes between the countries of the region can be categorized as the traditional security issues. Distrust between neighbouring countries also makes it particularly difficult to improve security cooperation between regional countries. Moreover, the lack of an organizational framework covering the whole region undermines regional countries’ ability to settle disputes among them. Each regional organization like CICA, SCO, the Eurasian Union, ECO, the Turkic Council, etc. has its own particular agenda which makes it harder to discuss and resolve regional issues in a comprehensive and consistent manner.

Conclusion

As it is seen, from the perspective of Turkey, China, and other regional countries as well, the ‘OBOR’ is not only a rewarding project but also an indispensable one. The ‘OBOR’ offers a wide array of opportunities for the Silk Road countries as it will allow them to obviate serious risks by joining forces  and utilizing their comparative advantages. In this respect, it is very important for all the countries of the region to focus on areas of cooperation within the framework of the project, and put their shared vision into practice in a constructive manner without a moment’s delay.

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