Home / Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

A Turkish case for the modern Silk Road

By Zhu Qiwen | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-09 07:49

A Turkish case for the modern Silk Road

A transcontinental city in Eurasia, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country's economic, cultural and historical heart. Provided to China Daily

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 thanks-giving 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 International 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 all-round 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

Most Viewed in 24 Hours