Europe can’t afford a US-Turkey crisis
“China has turned Xinjiang into ‘something resembling a massive internment camp, a sort of no-rights zone,’” Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said on Aug. 10. U.N. experts estimate China had detained a million or more ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Muslims are “being treated as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity,” she said.
While addressing Turkish ambassadors on Aug. 13, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would boost its relations with China. His messages on China were immediately followed by his messages on Turkey’s support to Rohingya Muslims.
It is interesting to see that while Erdoğan was vocal about the plight of Muslims in Myanmar with whom Turks have no ethnic bond, he remained silent on the plight of Uyghurs in China, which Turks regard as their ethnic kin.
Could that be because Turkey has just secured last month $3.6 billion loan package from China?
Is it a coincidence the Chinese consul general in Istanbul held a press conference last week to explain the visa facilitations? At any rate, the timing is interesting. The visa requirement has been an important obstacle in relations since it has been tremendously painful to get Chinese visas, especially for Turkish businesspeople.
Erdoğan recently called on Washington to “give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives.”
China is one of the countries that is believed to be one of the alternatives. But Turkish-Chinese relations are bound to be asymmetrical, both politically and economically. China sets the rules of the game and if Turkey wants to be on good terms with China, it has to forget about Uyghur Turks, which then means an end to value based foreign policy, a concept frequently voiced by İbrahim Kalın, Erdoğan’s chief policy adviser.
Russia is another country that is believed to be one of the alternatives. Similarly, Russia has just announced it is ready to lift visa requirements on “certain categories.” Russia had lifted visa requirements in 2011 only to install them back in 2014 after Turkey downed a Russian war plane. Relations were put back on track in 2016, but Russians waited two years to lift visa requirements, and they will only do so partially. Are we supposed to take this as a favor?
When it comes to asymmetry, the Turkish-Russian relationship is the mother of asymmetrical relations. Turkey’s dependence on Russia is potentially much more dangerous than when compared to its problems with the U.S. And without the Trans-Atlantic alliance, Turkey cannot counter balance Russia.
Turkish foreign policy takes its strength from balancing between different international and regional actors, so losing an important counter balance factor will come with a high price tag.
No doubt Ankara and Washington are suffering from a crisis management problem.
Turkey is not the only country having problems with Trump’s America.
Look at Germany for instance. Trump refused to shake hands with Germany’s Angela Merkel on her first visit to Washington. He just recently targeted Germany again during the NATO meeting for boosting economic relations with Russia while leaving the job of protection from Russia to the U.S. He pulled back from climate change and the Iranian deal despite opposition from Europe. He has declared a trade war. All of this has not led to a war of words spiraling into an acute crisis where sides have thrown ultimatums at each other. Dialogue channels have remained open.
European leaders who are showing better skills of crisis management have to use their diplomatic talent to stop the U.S.-Turkey crisis from spiraling into a point of no return.
While Turkey needs the Trans-Atlantic alliance to counter balance Russia, Europe needs NATO’s second largest army in its contentious relations with Moscow. In addition, they cannot expect a country with a ruined economy to stand as a barrier against foreign terrorist fighters and keep hosting millions of refugees.
It may be a wise move for some European leaders to step in and help the two capitals at least for finding a face saving solution to the current stalemate. While doing so, they may also find the occasion to emphasize the importance of rule of law and what needs to be done for a better spirit of cooperation in the Trans-Atlantic community.