Monday, May 20, 2024

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    Turkey’s Geopolitical Gambit: Challenging the India-Middle East Trade Corridor

    Ankara's Strategic Pursuit to Cement its Role as a Vital Eurasian Trade Link

    In the ever-evolving geopolitical chessboard, Turkey is engaged in intense deliberations with its regional partners to assert its dominance as a key conduit for the transportation of goods between Asia and Europe. This maneuver comes in direct response to the proposed India-Middle East trade corridor, championed at the recent G20 summit. The contentious corridor, endorsed by the United States and the European Union, has China’s growing influence as its primary adversary and conspicuously sidelines Turkey.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unequivocally proclaimed post-G20 that “there can be no corridor without Turkey,” underlining that “the most suitable path for east-west trade must traverse Turkey.”

    Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has echoed this sentiment, casting doubts on the rationality and efficiency of the India-Middle East corridor. He insinuated that “more geostrategic concerns” are in play, asserting that “a trade route signifies not only commerce but also reflects geostrategic competition.”

    Turkey, deeply rooted in history as a bridge between East and West, has proffered an alternative solution known as the Iraq Development Road initiative. Fidan is steadfast in his assertion that “intensive negotiations” are ongoing with Iraq, Qatar, and the UAE regarding a project slated to materialize “within the next few months.”

    The proposed $17 billion initiative envisages a route originating from the Grand Faw port in oil-rich southern Iraq, traversing 10 Iraqi provinces, and culminating in Turkey. Diagrams released by the Baghdad government depict a comprehensive network, combining a 1,200-kilometer high-speed rail system and an accompanying road network. The project’s complexity is underscored by its three-phase timeline, with the final phase earmarked for completion in 2050.

    However, analysts have raised valid concerns regarding the Development Road project’s feasibility on both financial and security fronts. Emre Peker, Europe director at the Eurasia Group think-tank, opines that “Turkey’s financing capacity falls short of realizing the project’s full scope.” He posits that Turkey appears to hinge its hopes on UAE and Qatari support for infrastructure construction, subject to convincing these Gulf states of viable returns on investment—a proposition not immediately apparent with the Development Road.

    Security and stability issues loom large as well. The turbulence within Iraq, characterized by corruption, crumbling infrastructure, feeble governance, and persistent political instability, casts a shadow over the project’s execution. Additionally, the question of Iraq’s financial commitment to the endeavor remains unanswered.

    Western diplomats and analysts have cautioned that the proposed G20 corridor might also take decades to materialize. Turkey has adeptly navigated the fine line between East and West, cultivating relations with the US, EU, Russia, and China, albeit occasionally triggering tensions with the West. Recent US sanctions against two Turkish companies, allegedly linked to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, serve as a testament to the complexities of Turkey’s diplomatic balancing act.

    While Ankara has generally been supportive of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, its role has been relatively limited. Beijing’s investments in Turkey through Belt and Road account for a mere 1.3 percent of the total, according to a recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study.

    Murat Yeşiltaş, director of foreign policy studies at Seta, a think-tank associated with President Erdoğan’s government, suggests that despite the alternative proposal, Turkey may still pursue participation in the India-Middle East initiative. Erdoğan might have an opportunity to advocate his case as early as next week if he meets with US counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

    Yeşiltaş posits that, aside from highlighting Turkey’s geographical advantage in trade, the country can exert influence in the region, especially in the wake of its recent reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Turkey’s political sway in the region positions it to facilitate trade negotiations and resolve disputes among corridor participants.

    In this high-stakes geopolitical game, Turkey stands at a crossroads, faced with the challenge of safeguarding its historic role as a vital trade link while navigating the intricate web of global power dynamics. The outcome of these deliberations will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the future of Eurasian trade routes. Only time will tell if Turkey can successfully position itself as an indomitable force in the ever-shifting sands of international commerce.

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