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Opinion
Formula for a Win-Win Future
Turkish envoy gives an exclusive interview
 NO. 20 MAY 18, 2017

Ali Murat Ersoy, Turkish Ambassador to China (WEI YAO)

As a crucial hub along the ancient Silk Road, Turkey looks poised to integrate the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, more effectively with its own development plan. In a recent interview with Beijing Review reporter Li Nan, Ali Murat Ersoy, Turkish Ambassador to China, spoke about how the two countries can work in concert for the common good of Asia and beyond.

Beijing Review: What are your thoughts on the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation? How do you view the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative? 

Ali Murat Ersoy: The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people exchanges among the countries along the Belt and Road geography.

The forum in Beijing represents a significant point in time for countries from all over the globe to come together to discuss the practical implementation prospects of enhanced connectivity in Asia as well as between Asia and other continents.

The world is seeking a new model to reignite economic development and the Belt and Road Initiative may provide one of the solutions. The initiative's infrastructure and connectivity networks in the fields of energy, transport, communication and trade will link continents. This project will also stimulate trade in the heart of Asia, as well as in its periphery. Therefore, it can serve as an essential mechanism for inclusive growth and development.

Turkey has underlined that it will be one of the key countries along the Belt and Road with its critical geopolitical location and well-established infrastructure, trade and transport elements. The Middle Corridor Initiative and the bilateral agreements reached between Turkey and China show Turkey's role as a point of confluence and a critical hub for the Belt and Road.

Passengers board a high-speed train in Pendik Station in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 30. The second phrase of the principal project of the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed railway, jointly built by a Chinese-Turkish consortium, was completed in July 2014 (XINHUA)

What opportunities are yielded by the Belt and Road Initiative for both China and Turkey? 

The Belt and Road Initiative provides an excellent opportunity for making Eurasia one of the main arteries of global trade and commerce. It also has the ability to stimulate trade in the landlocked part of Asia as well as its periphery.

Turkey has declared its strong interest in the Belt and Road Initiative right from the beginning. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Turkey and China in 2015 on aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Turkey's Middle Corridor Initiative. This MoU was about not only transportation and logistics, but also creating connectivity in several fields, including people-to-people contacts.

The Marmaray Tunnel connecting the continents of Asia and Europe under the Istanbul Strait became operational in 2013. The Edirne-Kars high-speed railway will provide an essential modern connection across Turkey. Another major project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will provide an efficient railway connection linking Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia. With its extensions into the Far East, this line will connect the East and the West. We call this project the "Middle Corridor."

The Middle Corridor constitutes one of the key land arteries of the modern Silk Road system. It will create an additional transit trade route from China to Europe. Another Turkish initiative is the "Caravanserai Project" which was introduced as a concept in 2008 to increase cooperation among customs authorities along the Silk Road. This project aims to facilitate trade and transport by accelerating border-crossing procedures in Asia.

All these projects and initiatives will enhance Turkey and China's prospects for cooperation in third countries on infrastructure-related projects. The Belt and Road Initiative will also provide ample opportunities for future energy cooperation.

The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road offers opportunities for further cooperation between our countries regarding ports and logistics.

The Land Transport Agreement will be another important dimension which will open the way for more bilateral cooperation between Turkey and China under the Belt and Road Initiative. Also, the Belt and Road Initiative will be instrumental to promote the development of new business models such as e-commerce. Turkey and China have already signed an e-trade agreement and I hope that the Belt and Road Initiative will help us to further expand the use of e-commerce between our countries.

With necessary financing and cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative will surely create a positive synergy in a vast geographical area. There are already several blueprints coming from countries along and beyond the Belt and Road. This initiative will help new markets, improve infrastructure and increase trade as well as social and cultural contacts. It seems to be a good formula for a future based on a win-win approach.

What are the similarities and differences between the Belt and Road Initiative and Turkey's Middle Corridor Initiative? What major projects has Turkey launched in recent years? 

The projects have similar goals: to increase connectivity, to improve transport routes and to diminish costs of trade. These projects also aim to increase people-to-people contacts, and boost cultural ties and tourism. Therefore, both sides were ready to align the two projects. We are working on several new agreements to be signed in the near future.

In the meantime, Turkey has already started delivering on other concrete projects in the fields of transportation, logistics, energy and trade. These national projects will also contribute to the revival of the ancient Silk Road.

With the inauguration of the Marmaray Tunnel on October 29, 2013, which coincided with the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, the continents of Asia and Europe are now linked with an undersea railway tunnel. This project will also enable uninterrupted travel from Beijing to London by railway. Therefore, it will be an important part of the "Rail Silk Road."

One of Turkey's mega projects completed in 2016 was the third bridge on the Istanbul Strait. Named Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, it is a combined road-rail bridge and carries four motorway lanes and one railway line in each direction. It is among the top 10 tallest suspension bridges in the world.

Another mega project, the Eurasia Tunnel, was completed and opened in December 2016. The double-deck tunnel provides additional connection under the Istanbul Strait, connecting Asia and Europe.

Within the last 10 years, Turkey has built more than 17,000 km of dual carriageways, nearly tripling the 2002 coverage of 6,000 km. The country aims to reach 37,000 km by 2023, connecting all provinces of Turkey with dual carriageways.

We have also seen massive improvements in air transportation. The number of airports in Turkey has been doubled over the past decade. Passenger traffic has increased more than five-fold during the same period. According to the World Bank, Turkey ranked ninth globally in terms of the number of air passengers it had in 2014, with 92 million. The third airport project in Istanbul will have a huge investment total and will make Istanbul a global airline hub.

The maritime sector in Turkey has seen its share of improvements. The total traffic in ports has more than doubled over the last eight years as a result of increasing trade and developing infrastructure. Turkey has greater targets in maritime transportation with important port projects such as the Çandarlı Port in the Aegean Sea, Filyos Port in the Black Sea and Mersin Second Container Port in the Mediterranean Sea. With these projects, Turkey will be able to increase its container handling capacity threefold. The maritime fleet of Turkey has grown to reach 30 million DWT (deadweight tonnage), ranking 13th in the world.

"Kanal Istanbul" is a project of an artificial sea-level waterway, which will be connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and hence to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. It would bisect the current European side of Istanbul and form an island between the continents of Asia and Europe (the island would have a shoreline with the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, the new canal and the Istanbul Strait). "Kanal Istanbul" aims to minimize shipping traffic in the Istanbul Strait. Turkey aims to finish the project in 2023, which will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the republic.

What challenges will China and Turkey face in the synergy of the two plans? 

We are certain about the importance of both projects and are eager to revive the ancient Silk Road. Furthermore, there is the highest level of political will on both sides to achieve our common goals. I sincerely believe that as long as we are willing to cooperate and to coordinate efforts regarding the alignment of our projects, we will continue to make progress. The involvement and support of other countries will help to further deepen the positive impact of these projects.

As there is no competition, but complementarity among our projects, I don't see a reason for it not being successful.

The first China-Turkey cross-border e-commerce platform Tr.dhgate.com was launched in 2016. What is your comment on the Silk Road online? 

Our trade increased gradually from $238 million in 1990 to $27.7 billion in 2016. We are aware of the great potential in our trade relations. Therefore, it is essential to find and use new and modern ways to improve the bilateral trade and economic relations. To this end, e-commerce is an important means that reaches out to large segments of our populations.

As I mentioned before, Turkey and China have signed a cooperation agreement in the field of e-commerce, a sector which is gaining more importance every day. This was China's first cross-border e-trade agreement signed with another country.

The website Tr.dhgate.com already covers a large variety of goods. It is a good business-to-business (B2B) platform. It connects mainly the small and medium-sized businesses between the two countries. In our opinion, this is just the beginning of the B2B online trade process, and further steps in connection with e-commerce between the two countries will follow accordingly. The "Electronic Silk Road" is becoming reality.

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar 

Comments to linan@bjreview.com 

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