Turkey and the diplomatic charm offensive
Some 69 countries have requested medical materials from Turkey, according to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Of the 69, Turkey has given a positive reply to 17. Some of these countries called on Turkey, in the first days of March, before they first announced their first respective cases of COVID-19. Ankara, meanwhile, didn’t send these materials for free; they sold them. But we are living in such times that, let along getting something for free, even the possibility of buying medical materials is highly appreciated. I’ve been told that in some of the countries that managed to procure materials from Turkey, even government ministers known for their anti-Turkish sentiments have made positive statements.
Spain, which is having tremendous difficulty in coping with the pandemic, recently asked to buy medical masks from Turkey. Madrid, however, probably did not get a positive reply, since Çavuşoğlu said Ankara was unable to meet all the demands and that it needed to see whether there will be enough material to cover its own needs.
Indeed, at a time when Turkey has entered a period where it will see COVID-19 cases rise exponentially, a Turkish woman waiting for her mother’s test result for more than 48 hours or a Turkish man who can no longer find a mask might become extremely angry to hear that masks or test kits are being “exported” (to use Çavuşoğlu’s terminology) to other countries. They couldn’t care less about scoring diplomatic points.
“You cannot sleep with your stomach full when your neighbor is hungry” is a Turkish saying I have used frequently in reference to Europe’s reaction against the immigration challenge. Europe tried to build walls against the migrants out of fear for their lifestyles or out of selfishness in refusing to share their welfare. Obviously, the COVID-19 challenge threatens not just our “life systems” but “our lives.”
That’s why those favoring protectionism and a walled-off West might feel vindicated.
Indeed, debates have already started on what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. There is no doubt that we will see a rise in protectionism and attempts to ensure self-sufficiency. “This pandemic showed us that we are much too dependent on China,” an Asian diplomat told me.
The pandemic has taken the U.S.-China rivalry to another level. It is, however, too early and premature to speculate that global leadership will shift toward China. Having left the worst behind, China has started a charm offensive, extending assistance to severely hit European countries. Chinese health authorities have been praised for sharing information about COVID-19, which has facilitated the fight against the pandemic. However, China’s role in the global spread of the virus is still under scrutiny since it is still accused of hiding the existence of the virus in the very first days and letting people move around despite knowledge of the virus. In addition, some accuse
China of false propaganda, arguing that Beijing is spreading the wrong information about the latest situation in the country.
But obviously, China is not losing this opportunity to win “hearts and minds,” especially at a time when the Western hemisphere seems to be in disarray. Each country has different socio-economic dynamics, so it is natural for each government to introduce measures at its own pace. But “unity in diversity” did not work in this case. There was diversity but no unity in terms of solidarity or in terms of the mentality that dictates cooperation.
The European Union is said to have emerged stronger from all previous crises. Right now, the pandemic is the most severe existential crisis it has ever witnessed. One hopes European leaders will opt for strengthened cooperation once they get over the initial shocks.
Turkey is still one of the few countries opting for multilateralism. Çavuşoğlu has proposed, for instance, the establishment of an international fund so that those countries which can produce drugs against the virus can increase their output and meet the increasing global demand.
But in order to be credible in its calls for multilateral cooperation, Turkey needs to be open to cooperation itself. It should, for example, be transparent. So far, Turkey has avoided sharing its statistics in terms of the breakdown based on the region, age, sex and medical history of those who test positive, as well as the identity of those who have succumbed to the disease. Cooperation means sharing – and sharing requires transparency.