Pakistan makes an important move to strengthen friendship with Turkey
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has helped Pakistan to at long last take advantage of its strategic location as the multi-climatic ‘zipper of Asia’. In so doing, Pakistan is now the trading fulcrum that helps to link the Pacific with the wider Afro-Indian Ocean space and the Mediterranean beyond. As China and Turkey bookend this Pacific to Mediterranean trading route, it is vital for both China and Turkey to work as partners to Pakistan which sits at the centre-point of this inter-continental connectivity route.
Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser recently met with Turkey’s Ambassador to Pakistan Ihsan Mustafa Yurdakul where the former offered a formal invitation to Turkey, asking Ankara to become an official party to CPEC. According to Qaiser,
“Pakistan highly values its relations with Turkey, and the new government desires to further strengthen relations between Islamabad and Ankara”.
In turn, the Turkish Ambassador stated,
“The Turkish people always consider Pakistan as their second home, and we wish to see this country always strong and prosperous”.
Common sense meets common goals
As Turkey and Pakistan were early supporters of the Belt and Road initiative, it makes perfect sense that both nations should work to increase connectivity across historic trading routes that have been revived by China’s flagship connectivity project. Furthermore, as Saudi Arabia has already joined CPEC after agreeing to invest $10 million into the construction of a major oil refinery in the CPEC port city of Gwadar, it was always important for Pakistan to balance its historic friendship with Riyadh with its even more potentially dynamic long term friendship with the Turkish people and Republic.
Turko-Pakistani cooperation in CPEC will also help to accelerate two important positive phenomena in geopolitical relations with win-win outcomes resulting for all involved. At present, Turkey and China are developing ever closer relations which can be strengthened by a mutual deepening of ties with Pakistan. Likewise, as Imran Khan’s PTI government looks to build a progressive Islamic welfare state, Imran and his ministers could learn a great deal from the success of Turkish President Erdogan’s AK Party which literally promotes the same Islamic welfare agenda.
Turkey and China’s goals can positively converge at CPEC
In terms of linking China’s Pacific ports with the wider Afro-Eurasian space, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) represents a key artery in making this all important journey possible. A future China-Myanmar Economic Corridor will help to compliment CPEC, while an Arctic maritime belt based on the strong Chinese partnership with Russia also holds a great deal of promise for the future.
In between CPEC and the Arctic however lies a trans-central Asian road which will ultimately stretch from China’s border with Kazakhstan to Turkey via a southward turn in the Caucasus. Such a road represents a close approximation to some of the most widely used paths of the ancient silk roads which linked the Mediterranean cultures with those of the north Pacific.
As part of China’s plans to intensify building works on this particular road, Beijing intends to construct a modern Kazakhstan to Baku railway which will then merge with the existing Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. From there, China intends to build a railway linking the eastern Anatolian city of Kars to Edrine on the European side of the Bosporus. In this sense, a trans-Anatolian railway into continental Europe will help to complete this central leg of Belt and Road, thus replicating one of the most important ancient trading routes whose modern benefits to the world are substantial.
Against this background, it is not surprising that Chinese investment into Turkey and bilateral trade between Ankara and Beijing continues to grow. The modern infrastructure and economic health of Turkey are clearly vital to the central leg of Belt and Road just as sure as Pakistan’s economic health is vital to the all important Pacific to Afro-Eurasian portion of the global megaproject.
Turkey’s President Erdogan was among the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of the Chinese One Belt–One Road initiative which was originally introduced in 2013. Since then, the economic partnership between two of Asia’s most important powers has continued to blossom.
Turkey’s rapidly growing economy is likewise a substantial point of interest for Chinese investors looking for growing, young and dynamic markets in western Eurasia. A recent report from Turkey’s Daily Sabah details how over 1,000 Chinese firms are now active in Turkey across a variety of sectors. According to the report,
“Chinese firms that have been operating in Turkey’s logistics, electronics, energy, tourism, finance and real estate sectors are expanding their businesses in the country. With the entry of Bank of China and Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the flow of Chinese companies into Turkey has accelerated and also expanded into the e-commerce sector in the recent period.
The world’s second largest trader, China invests $120 billion annually in various countries across the world and Turkey has been enjoying China’s overseas investments in the recent decade.
Accordingly, the number of Chinese firms operating in Turkey had neared 1,000 by April, according to the data of Economy Ministry.
Drawing attention to the significance of Turkey within the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), an infrastructure development project designed and launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 and spanning over 65 countries, Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) Turkey-China Business Council Chairman Murat Kolbaşı stressed that the entry of two Chinese banks to the Turkish financial sector and the acquisition of a port by Chinese investors indicate the country will expand its investments and business operations in Turkey in other sectors, as well, including in energy, logistics, tourism, transportation, infrastructure and e-commerce.
Turkey’s unique position in the BRI makes the country a gate to Europe and Africa for China’s trade operations on the project’s route. Therefore, Kolbaşı highlighted that Turkey will naturally become a logistics hub for trade on the three continents.
With the aim of expanding Turkish-Chinese cooperation in the logistics sector, Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) announced that it will form a logistics company in Hong Kong in partnership with China’s ZTO Express and Hong Kong’s PAL Air.
The partners aim to make the new joint venture one of the world’s largest integrator, and generate revenue of $2 billion within the first five years of its operation. They expect growth performance in proportion to the rising demand in the e-commerce sector.
The new joint venture and Istanbul as a mega transport hub is expected to enable THY to deliver to its customers around the world with excellent service quality“.
The report goes on to detail further Chinese investment in Turkey’s shipping and rail sectors while China and Turkey are also cooperating in the energy sector.
The following major Chinese projects in Turkey look to help elevate both Turkey’s internal economic connectivity and energy independence while readying the west Eurasian power to play a vital role as a key hub in One Belt–One Road:
–A high-speed Ankara to Istanbul railway
–A third nuclear power station to compliment those presently being constructed by Turkey’s Russian partner
–The modernisation of Turkey’s Kumport container port which is now operated by the Chinese company Cosco Pacific
–Working cooperatively to expand Turkish eCommerce platform Trendyo which just received an investment from Chinese global eCommerce leader Alibaba.
Additionally, China and Turkey plan to conduct bilateral trade in a combination of Lira and Yuan in a move that will ultimately make the growing trade between the two nations Dollar free and thus sanctions proof. In 2017, China sold $23 billion worth of goods to Turkey while China imported $3 billion worth of goods from Turkey. Officials in both countries have expressed their desire to rapidly increase these numbers.
Furthermore, while Russians continue to represent one of the biggest single national groups to visit Turkey as tourists, Ankara and Beijing are working to expand the number of Chinese tourists in the country who last year increased their spending in Turkish businesses by 166%. Turkish authorities have already begun work to make the country increasingly appealing to both Chinese visitors and investors. Last year, Ankara ordered a clampdown on provocative Sinophobic media outlets who seek to stir unnecessary tensions in China’s Xinjiang province.
Today, Turkey is taking the next logical step in strengthening its already strong and growing economic partnership with China. On the 1st of July I further stated,
“The next big step for Turkey is to gradually divest financial assets from the US and EU and move them towards Shanghai and other Asian financial centres that are more comfortable with working with Turkey as a partner for mutual development throughout future decades.
While the American military-industrial complex is keen not to alienate Turkey further, other forces of the broader US deep state including intelligence agencies, the financial sector and many powerful ethno-confessional groups have already begun acting and speaking as though Turkey is a rival or adversary of the US”.
Just over one month later, this suggestion become the new status quo for Turkey’s economic relations and its monetary strategy. With Erdogan further stating that small and medium sized businesses are the economic engine of the Turkish economy, this helps give an indication that there will be no immediate plans for rapid hikes in domestic interest rates. Instead, Turkey is opting to continue existing policies aimed at economic growth while further encouraging foreign investment including and especially from China in order to off-set inflationary spirals caused by a combination of normal Keynesian growth trends, a surprisingly strong US Dollar and moreover, western financial speculators looking to weaken the Lira.
At the same time as China continues to solidify an important future partnership with Turkey, Germany too is engaging in an economic rapprochement with Anakra in spite of Germany’s dubious record of relations with Turkey in recent years.
As the economic engine of Europe and as an economy that will become increasingly reliant on the Chinese market in an era when the US continues to threaten more tariffs on European goods, Germany simply cannot ensure its economic future without healthy relations with Turkey. As the Turkish Straits and the city of Istanbul in particular have long represented Europe’s gateway to Asia, European producers will be looking to secure trade with Turkey as part of a wider aim to define their role as one of the outlets of Belt and Road that will see European goods traversing Anatolia and then heading towards the Caucasus before turning towards central Asia and finally to China.
In this sense, just as Pakistan represents the ‘zipper of Asia’ which helps to link western Eurasia and Africa to north and south east Asia, Turkey is the central fulcrum that will link all of Europe to the wider Asian space. Because of this, while Turkey’s domestic economy continues to grow in spite of monetary pressure from the United States, by once again positioning itself as the central element in the largest east-west trading route in the modern era, Turkey will become an invaluable partner to any nation that seeks to take advantage of the great opportunities of the Belt and Road initiative. China clearly understands this as do Turkey’s leaders. While Europe has been slow on the uptake, it will become increasingly apparent that without Turkey, Europe’s major inroad to the wider global east will not be as free and open as it needs to be.
The Erdogan-Imran partnership destined to happen
Turkey’s President Erdogan has a great deal of experience in government while Imran Khan’s government remains young and ready to learn from the success of like minded partners. During Imran Khan’s quest to form a government, his country has experienced great deals of political turbulence while Erdogan’s Turkey has remained generally stable despite a failed coup attempt in 2016 and the constant threat of terrorism (albeit of a different nature) that impacts both countries, as it does to much of the world.
It would therefore behove Imran Khan to personally reach out to the closest thing he has to an intentional counterpart in the form of Erdogan and the AK Party for a variety of reasons.
Even before attaining national power, Erdogan was skilful at using mass media to his advantage. Rather than engage with wilfully confrontational reporters, Erdogan took his message directly to the people in the form of mass rallies (something Imran Khan has also excelled at), social media and carefully crafted messages that clearly impart that Erdogan has a strong personal and political identity. Erdogan’s campaigns are something of a unique industry where his message is delivered far and wide in a highly direct manner that most Pakistani politicians could only dream of. Direct campaigning that circumvents traditional media avenues is an area where US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also excelled.
For Imran Khan, it would be instructive to learn from Erdogan how to avoid the often de-humanising media confrontations that can make otherwise strong politicians appear needlessly vulnerable. While a strong politician aims to rule a nation, hostile media outlets controlling the cameras often go out of their way to make an outspoken leader appear weak.
Because of this, Imran Kahn, a man whose message is not dissimilar from that of Erdogan in many respects, could learn from the Turkish President how to use media to his constant advantage while skilfully avoiding potentially detrimental situations. This is especially true as much of corporate Pakistani meida remains uniformly hostile to Imran’s government.
Domestically, both Erdogan and Imran Khan are opposed by ultra-secularists and religious extremists which is not a bad thing if one seeks to occupy a genuine centre ground. Both men are adamant that religion and modern democratic systems based on human and factional equality can and must coexist. Likewise, both have stated that the old economic order is broken and must be urgently reformed to be made more efficient, less corrupt and more self-reliant.
In terms of foreign policy, Erdogan has succeeded at using his eastern partnerships with the Chinese and Russian superpowers to leverage against the hegemonic desires of the US and EU. As a result, Erdogan has thus far been able to conduct agreements with both ‘east and west’ to the benefit of his nation. If Imran Khan seeks to be a successful Prime Minister, he will need to more effectively articulate this ethos in a manner that is simple and clear while also leaving room for manoeuvring both in terms of rhetoric and specific policy making.
Finally, while Erdogan has proved that he has not abolished Turkey’s secular characteristics but has merely allowed for the freedom of religious elements to be incorporated into society, Iman Khan must also make it clear that his leadership won’t result in shocking social change but nor should he cave to asymmetrical pressures from religious extremists nor from urban elites.
In terms of party political discipline, PTI could learn the most from the AK Party. The AK Party runs like a well oiled machine from the ground up. This is true of AK activists who can be easily and peacefully mobilised to high level officials who clearly understand their role, their purposes and their individual strengths and weaknesses. PTI must work to become far more disciplined in this sense, as scenes of rival PTI activists insulting each other and occasionally fighting one another in public do not inspire confidence in the party’s ability to unite the nation. Here, it would benefit Imran Khan to directly reach out to AK officials for consultations on stabilising party political mechanisms.
Turkey’s integration into CPEC can help to further promote trilateral cooperation over one of the most important routes of the Belt and Road network while simultaneously helping Pakistan’s reformist government to learn from the domestic success of President Erdogan’s AK Party. This win-win development should be implemented as soon as possible as China, Pakistan and Turkey are all in a unique position to gain from a strengthened partnership.