A Turk­ish case for the mod­ern Silk Road

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

My re­cent visit to Is­tan­bul and Ankara with a group of Chi­nese jour­nal­ists started with cu­rios­ity and con­fu­sion about Turkey, an un­fa­mil­iar coun­try at the far end of the an­cient Silk Road.

But it ended with strong con­fi­dence in the huge po­ten­tial of the China-pro­posed Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road) to build and im­prove re­gional trade and in­fra­struc­ture. The ini­tia­tive will also al­low China and Turkey to ful­fill their de­vel­op­ment goals through deeper and broader eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion.

Be­fore tak­ing the flight to the coun­try that bridges Asia and Europe, I was a lit­tle ner­vous about the ex­tended state of emer­gency that Turkey has de­clared af­ter the failed July coup. Me­dia re­ports about the un­rest in the Mid­dle East, the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and ter­ror­ist at­tacks had also made me sus­pi­cious of global in­vestors’ im­pres­sion of Turkey as an ex­cel­lent des­ti­na­tion.

But soon the tran­quil­ity of the Bospho­rus Strait and the bustling streets around Tak­sim Square eased my nerves. In fact, at a din­ner with lo­cal jour­nal­ists, I was even shocked to see some guests singing and danc­ing in another part of the restau­rant. “This can­not be a thanks­giv­ing party,” I said to my­self. Later, I was told that Nov 24 is ob­served as Teach­ers’ Day in Turkey and those en­er­getic danc­ing women were ac­tu­ally a group of young teach­ers cel­e­brat­ing their hol­i­day.

Such real-life scenes con­trast sharply with the so­bri­ety with which many Turk­ish peo­ple con­demn the failed July coup. From Turk­ish peo­ple’s shared anger over the aborted coup in July, I could feel their sense of ur­gency to get the Turk­ish econ­omy back on track.

Af­ter a decade of ro­bust eco­nomic growth from the early 2000s, the Turk­ish econ­omy has been pass­ing through a lean patch in re­cent years. Its growth slowed from 4.7 per­cent in the first quar­ter of the year to 3.1 per­cent in the sec­ond. More or less as a re­sult of the failed July coup, Turkey has re­vised its growth tar­get from 5 per­cent to 4.4 per­cent for next year while the In­terna- tional Mon­e­tary Fund has pegged it at 3 per­cent.

Ris­ing global un­cer­tainty and volatil­ity, too, have damp­ened Turkey’s growth prospects. Be­cause of the rapid fall of the Turk­ish lira against the US dol­lar in the wake of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Turkey’s cen­tral bank raised in­ter­est rates for the first time in al­most three years in late Novem­ber. The lira has fallen 15 per­cent this year, more than 9 per­cent in Novem­ber alone. Worse, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has voted to freeze talks on Turkey’s decades-old bid to join the Euro­pean Union, al­ready the long­est among all EU can­di­date coun­tries.

Such un­cer­tain­ties surely do not mean Turkey should shy away from global trade. In­stead, they only make it more im­per­a­tive for Turkey to bet­ter ex­plore other growth op­por­tu­ni­ties as the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive prom­ises.

It is ob­vi­ous that a con­ver­gence of their re­spec­tive de­vel­op­ment strate­gies makes it nat­u­ral for China and Turkey to build an all­round and deeper re­la­tion­ship. China may be Turkey’s sec­ond largest trad­ing part­ner, but the po­ten­tial of bi­lat­eral eco­nomic ties has not yet been ad­e­quately tapped.

More than 100 mil­lion over­seas trips were made by Chi­nese tourists last year, but less than half a mil­lion vis­ited Turkey, pointed out Ersin Ercin, di­rec­tor gen­eral for the Asia-Pa­cific with the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs of Turkey.

Sure, for the two coun­tries to bet­ter un­der­stand each other, both of which have made great con­tri­bu­tions to hu­man civ­i­liza­tion, they have enough rea­sons to strengthen eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion on the mod­ern Silk Road projects.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. zhuqi­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

LIU XINYI / FOR CHINA DAILY

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