Turkey's Regional Perspectives on Eurasia and East Asia
"The post-Cold War era notion of security can no longer be confined to merely military terms," according to Ambassador Fatih Ceylan, but factors such as historical, cultural and economic ties increasingly forge a role in developing greater political will and cooperation among neighboring countries. In this context, he believes, Turkey is well positioned to play a pivotal role in the region, not only for its own benefit but to the benefit of its Western allies as well.
According to Ambassador Ceylan, as the circle of international decision-making is growing wider, developing relations with countries like China, Brazil, South Africa, India, Saudi Arabia and Korea will aid in finding solutions to regional challenges related to climate change, proliferation and sustainable development.
At the end of the Cold War, Turkey took advantage of the new geo-political landscape that presented itself with many risks and opportunities to take control of its own destiny and that of the wider region surrounding it. With its growing economy, improved democratic standards, rich historical and cultural ties in the region, the Ambassador sees Turkey as an emerging power whose reach and soft power is relevant to assume a greater role in responding to the manifold challenges in the area. He explains that in the course of deepening its outreach, Turkey is more sensitive to the conflicts that surround its neighborhood and propelled to play an active role in their resolution. Turkey also stands ready to share its own democratization experience for those who wish to benefit from that.
Parallel to its strategic goal for EU membership, Turkey has taken great strides to develop relations with Eurasia, Latin America and Africa as well as to the east with China, Japan and South Korea. In this context, Turkey is now one of the three strategic partners of the African Union, enjoys observer, or partner, status with diverse organizations such as OAS, ASEAN and the Arab League. Turkey also plays a leading role in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and chairs the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. In the United Nations, Turkey has adapted to that of a donor country acting as an enabler in the developing world through bilateral and multilateral assistance projects and will be hosting the Least Developed Countries Summit next May in Istanbul. In terms of sustainable development, energy security and diversity, Turkey by virtue of its geo-strategic location, at the center of both producer and consumer countries, plays an essential role in securing and helping to diversify global energy flow as a multitude of oil and natural gas pipelines cross its territory.
Ceylan touched on some of the recent developments and perceptions regarding relations with Russia and East European Countries. Turkey has been particularly active in the Balkans, focusing on bilateral cooperation schemes and regional integration projects. Eurasia is experiencing a transition period, and, as such, a "new vision" is necessary that includes intensified political dialogue. Russia's objective still remains to restore its great power status by continuing to hold a strong influence over neighbors like Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Driven by economic and energy factors, Russia remains an integral aspect of Turkish foreign policy objectives. In light of the global economic crisis, bilateral trade for 2009 was recorded at $23 billion, but Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan has made clear intentions to raise trade to $100 billion within the next five years. In Ukraine, Turkey views the recent election of President Yanukovich, who seems to take Russian interests into account, as a favorable factor that will help strengthen Kiev's relations with Russia and aid in bringing political stability to the region. Turkey supports the democratization process in Belarus and promotes an approach of "engagement" and "encouragement" through constructive criticism. As Belarus' dependence, economically and politically, deepen with Russia, recent developments are worrisome but he believes that strategic interests will prevail.
With historical roots in Central Asia, Turkey can be viewed both as a European and Asian country. To that extent Turkey has been coordinating with China, Japan and South Korea, as well as expanding relations with regional institutions like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to enhance economic and trade links, and is improving relations with the Pacific Island States. Cooperation with China has progressed over the years making it Turkey's third largest trading partner with $19.2 billion in trade volume for 2010. Japan has always been viewed as a "reliable" partner according to Ceylan and bilateral trade volumes amount to about $3.5 billion. While Turkey enjoys excellent relations with the Republic of Korea, North Korea's nuclear issues continue to be a great source of concern. Turkey considers the Six Party Talks the essential forum to contribute to denuclearization of the North. Conversely, South Korea is viewed as their second largest trade partner in East Asia with trade volumes at $5.06 billion and 160 South Korean firms currently operating in Turkey with an investment of $550 million.
The Ambassador stressed that intensified political dialogue and cooperation grounded with economic interaction are the basis for creating lasting bilateral relationships. Eurasia is the region where international economic politics take shape, left neglected the EU, Chinese or Indian economic basins cannot interact with one another in a meaningful way. Mediation initiatives, development assistance and economic relations are tantamount to Turkey's commitment to playing a predominant role. He firmly believes that Turkey's future is intertwined with that of the region and that supporting security and stability are indivisible for prosperity shared in the neighborhood.
By Andri Orphanides
Christian Ostermann, Director, European Studies and History and Public Policy Program