A tale of two people’s republics: China and Turkey

A tale of two people’s republics: China and Turkey

According to fellow columnist Nuray Mert, “millet,” a word used a lot by President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, could mean “people.” That would make Turkey a People’s Republic like China. Since I recently spent two weeks there, I can tell you that the two countries are actually quite similar.

I already told you, when I wrote my first impressions about the country, that the first thing I noticed about China was the infrastructure. The smooth train ride from the airport, the superb Beijing metro and the wide highways made even Turkey’s infrastructure, which is so superior compared to peers’ like Brazil and South Africa’s, pale in comparison.

However, I forgot to tell you about the second thing I noticed: Even though I was told that the air was relatively clean that day, I had difficulty breathing. Ranked 118th out of 178 countries in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index (176th in the air quality sub-index), China has an impeccable record in destroying the environment. Turkey is just catching up.

I got my third impression in my hotel, when I wanted to check my email: I could not access gmail, which was blocked along with Twitter and Facebook. Luckily, thanks to Erdoğan’s own bans, which put Turkey among a handful of countries banning social network sites in March, I already had a virtual private network.

I found out soon afterwards that Bloomberg’s website was blocked as well because of their story on the finances of President Xi Jinping’s extended family. The news outlet was accused in November of blocking a corruption story to stay in China. Turkey has more journalists in prison than China, but Xi wins this one: “Defamatory” web posts are subject to three years in prison.

The Bloomberg incidents reflect a general distrust against foreigners. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Westerners are often painted as “conscripts in the army of hostile foreign forces seeking to thwart China’s rise.” Many close to Erdoğan feel the same way and see Bloomberg as a member of the Jewish interest rate lobby.

Speaking of corruption, compared to the $14.5 billion confiscated from former top official Zhou Yongkang’s circle, the $40 million Erdoğan’s boy Bilal allegedly could not “zero” looks really like leftover change. There is just less up for grabs: Turkey’s GDP is less than one-tenth of China’s. No wonder Erdoğan hopes to make Turkey one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2023.

Then, there are the economic similarities. As I explained in an earlier column, both countries are suffering from unsustainable growth even though their growth models are very different. Both have a real estate over-supply. China, like Turkey, is worried about the low value-added of its exports.

With some work, Turkey can catch up to China in corruption, environmental degradation, suppression of foreigners, the press – especially the foreign press – and, of course, Internet censorship. As the Erdoğan often says, no rest for the weary: Durmak yok, yola devam!