Turkey s New Activism in Asia. Bülent Aras*, Kenan Da c **, M. Efe Çaman*** - PDF

Turkey s New Activism in Asia Bülent Aras*, Kenan Da c **, M. Efe Çaman*** Abstract This article aims to analyse Turkey s foreign policy towards Asia, which is part of Turkey s emerging universal foreign

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Turkey s New Activism in Asia Bülent Aras*, Kenan Da c **, M. Efe Çaman*** Abstract This article aims to analyse Turkey s foreign policy towards Asia, which is part of Turkey s emerging universal foreign policy vision. The notion of geographic imagination is provided to theorize Turkey s emerging policy attitudes and behaviors. Turkey s involvement in Asia will focus on the development of economic relations, security cooperation, supporting Asian political schemes for a multilateral world order and playing a facilitator role in Asia s encounter with the West. This new foreign policy orientation links the reform and change in the domestic landscape and Turkey s new activism in Asia, which has opened new horizons in its relations with Asian states and has encouraged policy-makers in their search for a central role in a number of regions ranging from Africa to Asia. Keywords: Turkey, Asia, regional politics, critical geopolitics, geographic imagination, Introduction Recent years have witnessed considerable change and reform in Turkey s political, economic and foreign policy. Turkish politicians are proud of this transformation, and they promise to contribute to security, stability and prosperity in a wide range of territories, which go beyond Turkey s immediate neighbourhood, namely to distant geographies in Asia and Africa. Turkey s newly formed interest in these territories is the result of putting its house in order, gaining self-confidence in international relations, developing a universal vision of foreign policy, and searching for a way to play a central role in world politics. We argue that a comprehensive understanding of Turkey s activism in Asia requires discussing the changing domestic dynamics and the rhetorical and practical connotations of the formative relations between power and geography in the mindset of policy makers in Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer Turkey. The idea of geographic imagination aids in the understanding of the changing meaning and mindscapes of distant geographies and the dynamic process of affiliation to formerly far away territories. Namely, although the distance remains same, the perception of these geographies changes under the premises of a new geographic imagination. The physical distance and former difficulties of being involved in these geographies has started to not make strong sense in policy circles and at the public level. There emerges a process of discovery of the closeness of these geographies and availability for Turkey s involvement through the instruments of remembering past relations, unfolding cultural and civilizational affinities, and exploring possible opportunities. In this article, we aim to analyse Turkey s activism in Asia, which is part of Turkey s new universal vision of international affairs. We hold the idea that the evaluation of whether Turkey can play such a role falls short of understanding new activism and policy implications. Only after a comprehensive discussion of Turkey s motives and rhetoric as well as its capabilities, policy options and choices, may we come to a conclusion on Turkey s role in Asia. In this regard, we will employ the notion of geographic imagination to theorize Turkey s emerging policy attitudes and behaviors. We will also discuss Turkey s policy toward a number of Asian countries and its general policy line in Asia. Finally, we will provide our assessment of Turkey s Asian policy. New Geographic Imagination and Foreign Policy The literature on critical geopolitics questions the relationships between space and place, as well as the cultural and political dimensions, which enter a tense interaction with them. These novel approaches question the role of geopolitics in the foreign policy making process, rather than accepting them as something objective and natural. There is a special focus on geographic imagination which shapes cognitive maps of political elites, paving the way for naming regions or continents, such as the Middle East and Asia, and constructing mental zones, like East and West. This naming is important since it is socially constructed through historical experiences and interactions. It is based on a number of attributions and categorizations and helps policy makers define their rhetoric and practices. For example, there is a certain kind of understanding and perception about a region if it is located in the West. The language and rhetoric--from policy formulation to perception of traffic order--will change according to the long standing image and interpretation of the West. The attributions, categorizations, and perceptions lead to the emergence of a culture of geopolitics, which influences regional policy making. The creation of new geopolitical images Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer of threats is widely discussed in the literature. In the same sense, geographic imaginations may re-define potential enemies as potential allies and a distant zone as a potential area of influence. The change is a reflection of another form of relationship between power and geography. 1 This premise emerges from the new idea of critical geopolitics, which departs from traditional interpretations of geography as static or given. In the old sense, geopolitics was considered as a concrete science dealing with natural, objective and static realities vis-àvis the vague boundaries of foreign policy analysis. This new school of thought, on the other hand, explains geopolitics as an invention of social, political, and cultural imaginations. 2 The premises of critical geopolitics challenges the old interpretations with the idea that geographical space is a product of social construction. This new approach is concerned as much with maps of meaning as it is with maps of states. The boundary-drawing practices are conceptual and cartographic, imaginary and actual, social and aesthetic. 3 The imaginative creativity plays an important role in construction of geography. Identities, perceptions, and biases are as important as concepts in this process as are the natural factors such as proximity, territory, and spatial borders. One may interpret this claim as the absence of neutrality and objectivity concerning the factors that socially construct the meaning of geography. The new meaning of Asia is an example of the dynamic interaction between power and geography. There emerges a process of re-positioning, which places Turkey in a wider geographical landscape or makes it part of a new region. Turkey s new geographic imagination places it within Asia in a way that it occupies not only an important geographic position, but also may be able to emerge as a meaningful player in political and economic settings. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan exemplified this rhetoric by saying that: Istanbul is not only a center combining the continents but also a central symbol combining and synthesizing the civilizations. 4 He places Istanbul in the center of a vast landscape, where Turkey s geography gains meaning in a wider territorial context, and Turkey emerges as an influential player in the same context. The central elements which have determined geographic imagination have changed through a serious transformation in the domestic landscape. The new geographic imagination has shifted the former stance of Turkey toward Asia, which does not place Turkey as a part of Asia, to one of Turkey in Asia, which assumes an influential role for it in Asia. It marks a remarkable break from the old imaginary and it is now on trial in regional politics. This new imagination creates different feelings about Asian countries in the minds of policy makers. The crux of the question lies within the afore mentioned transformation, which has changed the geographic imagination, and subsequently reshaped foreign policy choices. The old Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer nation-state based geographical imagination was the result of domesticating the nation-state territories, which created a sense of well defined homeland in strict territorial terms. The regional rhetoric and language has been built on the idea that the homeland was under continuous threat and indeed it was surrounded by the enemies. This discourse helped policy makers to create a strong sense of defending the homeland, mobilizing support at home and preserving their hold on power. Under the definition of the old geographic imagination, Asia was a distant continent and there was a selected involvement to a romanticized Eurasia and oscilliating interest to the issues of Turkic peoples in this geography, such as the problems of Uighur Turks. Although Turkey s search for influence in the Turkic republics of Central Asia represented a departure from traditional foreign policy line, it fell short of evolving into an Asian policy. In this sense, the new geographic imagination is being shaped under the changing nature of the nation-state and its frontiers have expanded beyond the homeland in the cognitive map of policy-makers. Although there is no question of the viability of Turkey s borders that separate the country from Asia, its area of influence and, in another sense, its responsibility goes beyond the national borders under the impact of new geographic imagination. The relationship between bordering and othering 5 lost its meaning after removing the strain of domestic threat perceptions in foreign policy. This transformation goes beyond the classical discussions of perception or misperception in foreign policy attitudes. 6 It creates a wide-spread impact on the culture of national security and geopolitics, which means widening the horizons of policy makers and the emergence of certain new attitudes in foreign policy. The change can be understood in a multilateral framework, which includes the transformation in many realms of the domestic landscape and the bilateral interaction of each component of political, economic, and cultural transformation with the emerging geographic imagination. The territorial limits to Turkish involvement in Asia disappeared in this new mindset. It goes beyond the Turkic republics of Central Asia and deals with them along with other Asian countries in a wider Asian landscape. As Kirisci has suggested, from the perspectives of Turkish policy-makers, the political development, economic capabilities, dynamic social forces, and ability to reconcile Islam and democracy at home are the qualities that offer Turkey the possibility to develop and implement 7 such active and influential policies in distant geographies such as Asia and Africa. Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer Turkey in Asia The domestic transformation has changed the political attitudes that have paved the way for decreasing the range of geographic others and has redefined the friends and enemies in the region, thus extending Turkey s potential area of influence 8. As we discussed in theoretical terms, Asia is closer than in earlier periods, and policy-makers have the self confidence to be involved in Asian affairs. They seek participation in regional political and economic groupings and want to develop ties with a number of Asian countries. These are not temporary responsive policies to emerging situations, but long-lasting policy choices, which will resist both domestic and structural factors. Societal forces are increasing their influence in Turkish foreign policy making, and they are competing with the old bureaucraticauthoritarian tradition. There is now a strong focus on Turkey s globally influential role in issues such as the dialogue of civilizations and central role to contribute to solutions of a number of global problems, such as international terrorism. We will discuss the changing Turkish policy and attitudes toward China, India, Pakistan, Japan and Malaysia to exemplify Turkey s new activism in Asia within this wider framework. Although the discussions of the current state of relations between Turkey and these countries may seem to be departing from a theoretical and in-depth analysis, it is necessary to focus on a number of policy choices and initiatives to exemplify Turkey s new policy line and style in Asia. We will focus on the new geographic imagination with a special emphasis on the emergence of new regional rhetoric, policy orientations, and visible selfconfidence in interfering in regional affairs, and the dynamic multi-dimensional policy style in Asia. China Despite the physical distance between China and Turkey, relations go back hundreds of years. The ancient Silk Road kept trade and cultural links alive for a long time. 9 Despite the legacy of these long years of involvement, Turkish-Chinese diplomatic relations began only in The start of China opening to the outside world in 1978 facilitated the ties between the two states. 11 China s new attitude in international relations paved the way for high level official visits and exchanges. 12 These visits were dominated by talks on cooperation prospects in politics, economy, and security. In political terms, the Eastern Turkestan and Cyprus questions preserved their special places on the table. Turkey was striving for Chinese help in the United Nations (UN), considering the fact that China is a permanent member of the UN Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer Security Council. In addition, the problems of Uighur Turks have always been a concern in Turkish-Chinese relations. Although Turkey s relations with China have been dominated by the nationalist concerns of Uighur Turks, recent years have witnessed a pragmatic shift to economic matters and to a lesser extent a Turkish willingness to participate in Asian political and security schemes. The signals of this pragmatism were seen during Chinese President Jiang Zemin s visit to Turkey in April Then Turkish President Suleyman Demirel pointed out that: We do not interfere in your internal affairs. We have language, religion and kinship relations with Uighur Turks. We want them to live in peace and prosperity. These people are bridge of friendship between our countries. I believe in that these people are loyal parts of your country. It is our policy to support China s territorial unity. 13 Zemin responded that: We are paying serious attention to these people. Beijing will initiate a development plan for western China. We want Turkey to take part in these plans. 14. Turkey s current Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, visited China in January 2003, before his term began. During a joint press conference with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, he underlined the importance of Chinese territorial unity and his desire to improve economic and security ties with China. 15 On 24 June - 29 June 2009 President Abdullah Gül visited China and said one of the major goals of his visit was to boost economic relations. 16 In Beijing, Gül hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao and attended a Turkey-China business forum. 17 Following the meetings, seven cooperation agreements were signed between the two countries in the fields of energy, banking, finance and culture. 18 The Urumchi riots erupted on July 5th Just six days after President Gül s Urumchi visit. The main problem has been the inadequacy of China s minority policy that fell behind the international human rights standards. 19 Turkey reacted fiercely to these riots as almost genocide against the Uyghurs and urged China to stop the assimilation of its Uyghur minority 20 On the 27 th January of 2010 holding a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul, Yang said that Turkey and China had established formal diplomatic relations 39 years ago, adding that the relations between the two countries were boosting. Turkey had significant influence in the world and in its region, Yang said and stated that Turkey made great contributions to regional and world peace. Yang noted that the Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer two countries were also cooperating in UN Security Council, adding that the two countries had similar views in fight against global financial crisis and climate crisis. 21 Turkey and China have overlapping interests in their geopolitical and security concerns in the Middle East and Central Asia. Peace and security in these areas serve the best interests of both countries and focus attention on energy security and the activities of new terrorist networks. There seems to be two promising and stable main economic zones in these regions. These are the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region and Turkey. China has made considerable progress in economic activities in the Dubai centered Gulf economic region. There is new rising interest in Turkey as a stable emerging market and as the gateway to the Balkans and Europe. Turkey s new geographic imagination has led to the re-evaluation of China as an important partner and has motivated policy makers to search for further economic, political, and security ties with China. Turkey s policy makers have a new selfconfidence that they can play a much more influential a central role in international relations, rather than the previous inactive bridge role. They are paying serious attention to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and seeking observer or permanent status in this organization. 22 Turkish policy makers have assumed dynamic cooperation prospects with SCO (previous section unclear) in a number of issues ranging from international trade to regional security. According to Hasret Comak, Turkey s observer status is important for its elevation to a regional power in Asia, and this membership is likely to be a stepping stone toward Turkey s membership in ASEAN and other influential Asian organizations. 23 India India was an ally of the Soviet Union between 1947 and In those years, Turkey was a close ally of the U.S., which put these two countries at opposite poles until the late 1980s. The warming up began in 1998 with then Prime Minister Turgut Ozal s visit to India. The end of the Cold War created a suitable environment for improving political and economic relations. However, Turkish-Indian relations were still under the strain of Turkey s relations with Pakistan. The latter was also a legacy of the Cold War era which goes back to the Baghdad Pact and the later Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Turkey was a member of CENTO along with Iran and Pakistan. The idea was to constitute a strong pro-west alliance in West Asia. The issues at stake in Turkish-Indian relations are the Cyprus problem, the Kashmir problem, and the struggle against new international terror. India s position in the UN was against the Turkish stance in the Cyprus issue, while Turkey favored Pakistan s position in the Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer Kashmir problem. Ozal s visit in 1986 was revolutionary and opened an open discussion on these problems, which led to better grasp of the questions in both sides. Under the premise of a new geographic imagination, Turkish policy makers have changed their policy line toward the Cyprus issue and Turkish-Greek relations. Turkey is in a more advantageous position in the UN on the Cyprus issue and relations with Greece are at a much better level in comparison to the relations during the 1980s and 1990s. Turkey s increasing flexibility in these areas has put an end to their straining impact on relations with India. New international terrorism, which has gained strength in the aftermath of September 11, not only threatens the United States and its allies but also, as seen in the latest incidents, a significant part of the world. We want to stress that the continuous Al-Qaida attacks signify the vulnerability and weakness of defense, security, and intelligence system
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