One Belt One Road: Perks and challenges for Turkey
Unveiled in 2013, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative launched under Chinese President Xi Jinping has already connected more than a dozen European cities with Chinese manufacturing hubs like Yiwu.
As Asia Minor provides a clear passage between continents, Turkey’s position is vital for Xi’s ambitious initiative. China has been taking steps to ensure Turkey’s involvement, and the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu were present at the OBOR summit held in Beijing is an important sign of Ankara’s willingness to be included in the initiative.
The OBOR Initiative can provide Turkey with an opportunity to enhance its regional role, which would have a more reconciliatory mode as its neighboring countries would be more co-dependent through trade and increased interconnection. In a region where militarized and terminally closed borders (i.e. the Turkish-Armenian border) are still realities, the OBOR Initiative will provide an opportunity to strengthen relations between regional countries, and possibly resolve their differences in a peaceful manner.
By incorporating multiple actors into the equation, the OBOR Initiative has the potential to positively impact power balances in the region. Railroads value continuity; trains reach their destinations only if the railroad goes on uninterrupted. Thus, we can deduce that all who would benefit from a railroad linkage would oppose a conflict that could potentially delay or stop the movement of goods. This would result in stronger interdependence, which would make a conflict or a war less likely as it would disrupt trade along the railroad line. Increased commercial activity between regional actors and the involvement of international powers would make the region more stable, as both sides would suffer from a possible disruption in commerce.
In the OBOR’s initial stages, Turkey could provide a safe haven for capital and goods in the relatively unstable region. The fact that Turkey has a stronger currency than Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, or Azerbaijan and, in contrast with Iran, faces no economic sanctions, means it can be a locomotive force for development in the region. This is why Turkey should improve its positions in the OBOR Initiative and have a more constructive attitude towards the project.
By providing employment and growth to the host countries’ economies, the OBOR Initiative will also ensure sustainable growth and a general increase in living standards will be observed in underdeveloped areas in between Asia and Europe. It is also important to note that during the Beijing Summit for OBOR in May 2017, President Erdoğan said “the OBOR Initiative and similar projects that build infrastructure would put an end to terrorism.”
Another reason why Turkey should be participating in this initiative is that it would risk being bypassed otherwise. There are two ports on the Black Sea coast – Anaklia in Georgia and Constanta in Romania – that might divert the movement of goods around Eurasia, bypassing Turkey. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between Egypt and China is also worth mentioning, since sea transportation through the Suez Canal will even be more important with the Canal’s possible enlargement with Chinese financial help. Therefore, it would only be logical for Turkey to diversify its logistics options, so as to keep its historical importance in the movement of goods.
China’s modern Silk Road project is shaping out to be the 21st century’s biggest infrastructure investment, which will strengthen economic linkages between participating countries. Turkey’s support of the project can significantly contribute to Turko-Sino economic and trade ties, as well as enhance diplomatic relations between Ankara and Beijing. Ankara’s take on this ambitious project will be crucial for the above-mentioned effects to take place. Ankara must keep a constructive and clear attitude toward the OBOR Initiative and show its enthusiasm. Turkey’s attendance at the Beijing Summit was an important step, but ensuing measures, such as the ones listed above, should be taken to put the wheels in motion as soon as possible.
* Dr. Rıza Kadılar is a senior international investment banker. He also leads various non-profit organizations, including China Institute Turkey (ÇİTAM), where he serves as Founding Chairman. Erkin Ergüney is an analyst and researcher at ÇİTAM and a Master’s degree student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. This is an abridged version of the original article published in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Summer 2017 issue.