By Mohammad Mazhari

China seeks to balance U.S. naval power, Turkish expert says

April 24, 2021 - 12:18

TEHRAN – A Turkish political pundit says that China tries to curb the U.S. naval power by developing an alternative route to the U.S. energy corridor sovereignty in West Asia.

"China also purposes such as, balancing the U.S. naval power by developing an alternative route to the U.S. energy corridor sovereignty, to shorten the route that takes Middle Eastern (West Asia) oil to Chinese ports and to facilitate access to oil," Tahsin Yamak tells the Tehran Times.

Yamak, expert on international political economy, says China is to increase its influence in West Asia by “deploying near the Strait of Hormuz and disabling the Strait of Malacca by building strategic ports." 

On April 16, the White House welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s visit to the United States who was the first foreign leader to visit Washington since Joe Biden was elected president. It was announced that the cooperation in the region would be strengthened.

The talks provided Biden, a Democrat, a chance to work further on his pledge to revitalize U.S. alliances that had frayed under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

China topped the agenda, underscoring Japan's central role in U.S. efforts to face Beijing.

Meanwhile, China is extending its influence in West Asia through cooperation agreements with regional powers.

"The Strategic Cooperation Agreement, signed between China and Iran on March 27, 2021, is important in achieving China's goal under OBOR," Yamak says.

Following is the text of the interview:  

Q: How do you see Iran-Turkey economic relations? Do you think these two countries can help to build a regional economic bloc in the future?

A: Although there is a strong interaction between Iran and Turkey in many areas, the basic dynamics of the relations are "competition" and "cooperation". According to this, if "cooperation" is forefront in relations, economic relations also increase.

If "competition" is prominent in relations, economic relations also decrease. Of course, we should also say that there are cyclical events that support and/or hinder this situation. In the energy trade between Turkey and Iran, the international sanctions imposed on Iran have a significant impact, and this determines the volume of economic relations. Even in the process of continued sanctions against Iran, Turkey continues to import natural resources from Iran.

However, we also see that economic relations contracted during these periods. For example, in the 2013-2015 periods when international sanctions were imposed on Iran, the foreign trade volume between the two countries decreased from 14.9 billion dollars to 10.2 billion dollars. After the Trump administration announced that it would impose sanctions on Iran's oil industry, the volume of 9.7 billion fell to $ 3 billion from 2018 to 2020. As can be seen from the numbers, the economic relations between the two countries are of low intensity and far behind their potential. With the end of the Trump administration in 2021, an important opportunity has emerged for the strengthening of relations between the two countries.

In this process, I think that diversifying foreign trade and increasing foreign trade volume should be an important agenda for both countries. On the other hand, increasing the economic relations between the two countries both in terms of quantity and quality has an important potential for the development of regional relations. The economic cooperation that is currently ongoing between Iran and Turkey is important to turn into a strategic alliance contained political and social aspects. If this occurs, this situation can provide an important improvement towards the solution of the chronic problems in the Middle East  (West Asia) region. This case may ease the solution of many issues such as the Syrian Crisis, humanitarian immigration from the Middle East (West Asia) and Asia to Europe, and global terrorism.

Q: Do you believe the Chinese Belt and Road initiative can lead to a rapprochement between countries in the region, including Arab states, Iran, and Turkey?

A: The "One Belt One Road Initiative", which was shared with the world public in 2013 and also called the "Modern Silk Road", is an important project to expand China's economic sustainability, cultural engagement and political influence. With the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), Maritime Silk Road (MSR) and Digital Silk Road (DSR) projects to be implemented within this project; China aims to make sustainable economic development and to strengthen regional integration with the Middle East (West Asia) and Europe, especially Asia-Pacific.

China also purposes such as balancing the U.S. naval power by developing an alternative route to the U.S. energy corridor sovereignty, shortening the route that takes Middle Eastern (West Asia) oil to Chinese ports and to facilitate access to oil, to increase its influence in the Middle East (West Asia) by deploying near the Strait of Hormuz and disabling the Strait of Malacca by building strategic ports.

The Strategic Cooperation Agreement, signed between China and Iran on March 27, 2021, is important in achieving China's goal under OBOR. The relations that China is trying to strengthen with other Middle Eastern (West Asian) countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are also related to the Belt and Road Initiative.

In response to these long-term moves by China, it is important that the new U.S. President Biden welcomed the Japanese Prime Minister Suga as the first foreign leader, and it was announced that the cooperation in the region would be strengthened. It is understood from this that the USA will seek new collaboration opportunities and initiate moves in line with its goal of balancing China.

After the attempts in the Asian region, it is obvious that the USA will direct its route to the Middle East (West Asia) region, where it gives a central role in the context of global hegemony strategy. It is not possible for the USA to allow Chinese expansionism in the Middle East (Middle East) region, where it started to dominate with the Eisenhower Doctrine in the 1950s. The USA has noticed that the passive attitude it has displayed in the region during the Arab Spring is causing it to be in trouble in the future.

It is likely that the USA will enter into new collaborations with other (Persian) Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, which is the keystone of the regional balances. In this period, we can say that the struggle for global hegemony between China and the USA will increase. This situation will not allow the One Belt, One Road Initiative to achieve rapprochement and strengthen reconciliation between Middle Eastern (West Asian) countries in the short term.

Q: What is your comment on the recent meeting between foreign ministers of Israel, the UAE, Greece and Cyprus? Is Israel approaching Turkey's Mediterranean rivals?

A: It is possible to see this negotiation process as a continuation of the United Arab Emirates-Israel Peace Agreement signed between these countries on August 13, 2020. The main purpose of this agreement, led by former U.S. President D. Trump, was to establish a new order in the Middle East (West Asia) centered on Israel's security.

However, with Trump losing the U.S. presidential election on November 3, 2020, this issue lost its popularity and place on the agenda. However, it is understood that the active political figure of the Trump administration era, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, continues to maintain the position he achieved in this process and the idea of his country being the pioneer of Arab states.

As a country with the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey argues that resources should be determined by the consensus of all the littoral states of equitable sharing. Against Turkey using the legitimate rights stemming from international law, Israel seeks to guarantee its own security by cooperating with Greece and Cyprus and getting more shares in the Eastern Mediterranean. The purpose of Israel and the UAE is, in collaboration with Greece and South Cyprus, it is to ensure that Turkey's alone in this area.

Greece's opposition to Turkey is already apparent. At this point, this move of Israel and the UAE is ordinary and not surprising. However, it does not seem possible to derive a strategic cooperation model from the regional forum initiative carried out by these countries that have no idea for fair sharing of resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Q: What is the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Turkey's economy?  What were the government's policies to contain the pandemic?

A: The COVID-19 pandemic has severely damaged human health, employment, and welfare in particular. In the pandemic year 2020, the world economy has decreased significantly, and global poverty and inequality have increased.

Turkey's economy, because of the pandemic, like the rest of the world economy, has had a rough year. Turkey grew by 1.8% in 2020 and has been one of the few countries that have been successful in this field. Turkey has announced packages containing various fiscal measures such as minimum wage support for employees, short-term work allowance, prohibition of dismissal, tax deductions, providing direct support to strategic organizations.

Incentive programs and public-backed credit practices to ensure economic sustainability have put pressure on inflation. The monetary policy moves of the Central Bank of Turkey to ensure price stability was not sufficient. Another problematic area throughout this period was the rise in exchange rates. The moves towards providing currency stability have not been successful due to the significant decrease in gross reserves.

Exchange rates continued to rise in the pandemic year. Another negative impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on Turkey's economy is the increased social expenditures in response to the declining tax revenues have increased the central government's debt stock and budget deficit. The increase in exchange rates due to the pandemic reflected positively on exports and this situation caused the current account deficit to decline to a certain extent. However, the massive loss in tourism revenues negatively affected the current account balance.

But, some of this loss was partially compensated by the decrease in oil prices. Turkey in 2020, a $ 36 billion current account deficit in the foreign trade deficit of $ 50 billion. Employment creation capacity in this process is greatly reduced in Turkey and despite the partial decrease, unemployment figures remained high. Despite all policy that taken, the Crisis has affected Turkey deeply as in other countries, and its effects still continue.

Q: Is Turkey going to bet on Eastern economies rather than the dream of joining the European Union? How can Erdogan prioritize Asian economies?

A: Firstly, become a member of the EU will not be correct to express or define as a dream for Turkey. Despite all the adaptation efforts to become a member since the AK Party came to power in 2002, a negotiation being conducted with Turkey has been largely disrupted by some EU member states' political obstacles and the Cyprus problem. Another agenda defining the EU-Turkey relations is cooperation in the area of management of international migration.

The main migration routes leading to Western Europe, which is located on an important transit country, Turkey, is one of the main partners in the EU's management of migration flows. Therefore, due to the high economic interdependence and the ongoing forced cooperation due to migration, Turkey-EU relations will continue in a controlled and pragmatic way. Thus, the EU-Turkey relations take it as a strategic model of economic cooperation would be more appropriate.

On the other hand, it is seen that the COVID-19 pandemic causes problems in the global economic system, and this led to transformation. It has been understood in the moves that EU member states have taken against each other that in major crisis situations, the nation-state idea can prevail over the partnership concept. Therefore, models of cooperation with many political preconditions like the EU have lost their former appeal. This is being replaced by new win-win-based cooperation models. In these models, the idea of mutual gain and respect for national sovereignty is at the forefront. Turkey, starting from the closest neighbor of Asian countries, could lead to the development of a local cooperation model.
 

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