With its historical and cultural richness and located at the confluence of Asia, Europe and Africa, Turkey has a rich heritage of civilization. Although our country had never let its ties with these three continents weaken, a closer look shows that the West has always been at the center of its relations. Looking to the West during its 1,000-year presence in Anatolia, Turkey has continued to be an inseparable part of the Western bloc as it has been in the Republican era, cherishing the heritage of the Eastern Roman Empire centered in Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire.
A judicious analysis reveals how strategic a partner to the West Turkey is. Having played a key role with its geopolitical location, vibrancy, power and unwavering commitment to the strategic interests of NATO since 1952, Turkey has achieved integration with Europe in many areas. Adjustment laws and packages implemented in Turkey in economics, society and administration, its 22-year-old customs union with the EU, its being the fifth-largest trading partner of the EU with a trade volume of 145 billion euros, and its taking part in security initiatives across Europe as part of NATO are just some reflections of this integration. Again, Turkey is at the intersection of numerous oil and natural gas pipelines that represent a guarantee of supply diversification for Europe's energy imports. And thousands of students from both sides are involved in education programs through mutual student exchange programs. Turkey is also among the most important solution partners for Europe, relieving its burden regarding issues like refugees, economic crises and rising xenophobia. Looking at Turkey from a wrong perspective despite all these deep-rooted relations that pass well beyond usual partnership and taking steps that can weaken mutual ties would be the least desirable thing. In this regard, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan capping his recent visits to India, China, Russia and the U.S. with a subsequent one to Europe is of critical importance in terms of making some latent messages clear.
WHO IS A BURDEN TO WHOM, EU OR TURKEY?
Efforts to drive Turkey into a tight corner in different platforms, including the recent referendum, meddling in its domestic affairs, protection given to terrorists and coup plotters by countries that are supposedly the cradles of democracy are clearly poisonous relations. One cannot help wonder what Europe would gain from opposing Turkey by stoking certain tensions and discriminating against it, especially at a time when radicalism, terrorism, aggressive nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise.
Today, Europe is a continent with an ageing population and declining competition. Although it had recovered through the Marshall Plan and created an active economic union under the roof of the EU, it is faced with problems that pose quite serious threats to its prosperity and values. So, citizens of Europe should now ask themselves more sincere questions. Is what they expect from the future a continent turning more inward due to conflicts in the Middle East and growing tensions in the Balkan, or the one spreading peace and expanding the sphere of prosperity and stability? What do they want, further strengthening the values and institutions they currently have or living through wars and destruction of the past that had consumed all acquisitions due to terrorism and racism? Obviously, if Europe, which needs new dynamism, develops sincere relations based on an equal partnership with Turkey, which is a key player in its region, and if it avoids sacrificing these relations to petty calculations, it will be easier to find answers to these questions. Again, strong relations in the future would provide significant opportunities to create a real welfare society and build a balanced partnership between the East and the West. Otherwise, new actors could attempt to fill the void with more active initiatives.
CHINA: A FACTOR LEADING TO GREATER COMPETITION IN DEVELOPMENT
China, which successfully implements state-driven, export-oriented open economic policies, has grown at an average of above 9 percent annually during the last 40 years, eventually becoming the second-largest economy in the world. Turning into a virtual workshop of cheap production, the country seems bound to become more influential in the near future with its population of 1.4 billion and its remarkable investments. Especially investments made into such high-tech industries as artificial intelligence, robotics, defense, communications and informatics with millions of scientists will propel China to a totally different level in many areas. Recently, the country has been trying to bolster development with active international diplomacy, thus stating through its global initiatives in a non-aggressive way that it operates with its own rules. The One Belt One Road Forum, which was held in Beijing on May 14-15 with the participation of Erdoğan along with representatives from nearly 130 countries, is among the most important initiatives of this kind.
Announced to the world in 2013 in Kazakhstan by Chinese President Xi Jinping, this project aims to restore the ancient Silk Road and build an extensive transportation network between Asia and Europe through overland and maritime routes. The most striking aspect of the project is that it envisages a gigantic development thrust encompassing 68 countries and 4.4 billion people – approximately 60 percent of the world's population – with a projected infrastructure investment of $3 trillion. In this sense, many cities that are in need of basic investments will have modern infrastructure, long-term strategic cooperation will become possible, accumulation of capacity will be enhanced and substantial trade activity in countries on the route will begin thanks to a combined economic volume of $21 trillion bringing along numerous opportunities. Considering that the project will be at least 12 times larger than the Marshall Plan of 1948, which enabled the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, it becomes clear that what is underway is a process of truly huge economic dimension and with a potential to alter global balances of power.
Indeed, with the One Belt One Road Initiative, China plans not only a new Silk Road, but also the construction of an extensive system geared toward the future. With the trade routes and pathways it has planned on its own for the purpose of global development, it quickly realizes investment projects by including many regional and even Western companies in the process. When viewed closely, China asserts itself through resorting to refrains like sustainable development, win-win policies and development assistance, which we have long heard from developed countries that use them as a cover for exploitation and the control of resources. Different from traditional actors, however, China utilizes a quite unconventional discourse and approach with greater persuasive power and emphasis on participation.
For instance, various United Nations reports reveal that around $50 billion are siphoned out of Africa annually through abuses and money laundering schemes. It is no secret that the mechanisms enabling this plunder of wealth, which rightfully belongs to the countries of a whole continent of 1.3 billion people, are sustained by some expert bankers, accountants, companies and even politicians from developed nations. Naturally, in the face of considerable resources being stolen, it is impossible for the countries of the continent to develop and break free and for humanitarian dramas to come to an end through annual campaigns for just $3 billion to $5 billion of foreign aid. China, on the other hand, follows a different path. Instead of providing aid by collecting funds through resorting to images of misery and famine in Africa, it provides aid to poor countries through making basic infrastructure investments that are intended to expand its trade and establish a sphere of influence. A short while ago, Mombasa Port and Nairobi Railway in Kenya were put into service. Similar infrastructure projects are underway in many African countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Djibouti. For China, these investments, which are of a permanent nature in underdeveloped countries and which link cities to each other, facilitate commercial markets that can facilitate the flow of raw materials and commodities. Given that profit rates of Chinese international industrial giants rose 25 percent within the first quarter of 2017, it would be apt to say that the country swiftly reaps the harvests of its efforts.
U.N., NATO, EU, OECD, AND IMF: IS THE MAGIC GONE?
At a time when the geography of power is gradually moving west to east, it is apparent that China is engaged in hectic efforts preparing itself for the new era. But China does not seem to be intent on setting out on this journey alone. It places importance on cooperating with every country, especially emerging economies. It is trying to conclude industrial cooperation agreements with countries such as Germany and France, which have always been key members of the Western alliance. China strives to expand its zone of influence in culture, arts and philosophy by emphasizing peaceful diplomacy and soft power through its Confucius Institutes. Again, it tries to turn its country into a center of attraction for film and football, which are indispensable elements of popular culture. Through halal food certificates and the institutes it sets up, China develops products for the nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world. At the same time, while it assumes more active roles within existing international organizations, it also creates alternative ones as a response to Western-oriented organizations, which are relics of the Cold War era and whose function and relevance are questioned even by their founders. Newly created organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS, a new development bank and the Universal Credit Rating Group (UCRG), which give developing nations a bigger say and claim to ensure greater participation, attract countries from the Western bloc as well. In fact, intended to encompass every field of the global order, these initiatives give a hint of future military, economic and political partnerships in a low-profile way. But one thing is certain, China envisages a new kind of global integration with it being at the center, trying to build binding relations with other countries in every possible way. In this regard, if countries like Turkey that have young populations and developing economies enter into advanced partnership with China, the West will have a hard time in terms of competition. At a time when alliances become more valuable, although Turkey sees itself as a part of the West, evaluation of new alternatives and revision of relations in the face of frequently insincere approaches is always on the table.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND AID: NO TO COVERS FOR EXPLOITATION
Wealth was concentrated in Northern Europe for one-and-a-half century, North America for around 75 years, and perhaps the Far East and elsewhere in Asia in the near future. It is not clear how long the debate about the shift of wealth from west to east will go on, but in a system that enshrines interests and power, wild competition will continue, power will change hands again and wars and menaces will linger. Historical experience suggests that the West's priority is to establish unilateral dependence in its relations with the rest of the world. If today's rising actors plan to maintain the centuries-old relations of dependency and colonialism with such a twist as to make it seem development-oriented and more humanitarian, the global conscience will reject it. When it comes to ensuring genuine peace and stability, establishing justice and sustainable prosperity around the world, the issue boils down to sincerity in the end.
The real motive behind Turkey's growing humanitarian assistance and development aid in recent years is to spread this message of sincerity around the world.
As part of a duty to believe in the sacred message of the prophet sent as mercy for all worlds, our country rejects a world order that brings happiness only to itself but discontent and agony to others. While those equipped with "Western values" like bringing democracy and human rights, allegedly for enabling development, show off their lofty ideals far from the field, Turkey tries to reach out to the needy through its faith and sincerity without expecting anything in return or caring about self-promotion.
The ever-increasing troubles show that it is impossible to achieve any substantial outcome in the world with an understanding based on development aid within a rather limited framework. This is because the now-debunked discourses and approaches sustain an essentially unjust, opportunistic, patronizing and selfish policy in a subtle way. Real issues are also glossed over by constantly diverting people's attention to some hackneyed political, military or economic agenda relating to different regions. As a result, the downtrodden face more suppression while the mighty go to any length to maintain power, paving the way for many grievances. In this sense, the eventual emergence of strange and dangerous masses, their exclusion by the system and their transformation into agents of terrorism one after another should be understood well when discussing terrorist groups' breeding grounds.
In a world where the rich get richer and injustice pervades everywhere, a happy and prosperous society cannot be imagined. So, what matters is not who will hold more clout in the future, but who will provide justice. At that point, partnership with Turkey, which gives priority not to power but justice, will be valuable.
* President of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency.