Wednesday, May 27, 2015

‘Iron Silk Road': Dream Or Reality? – Analysis


By Selçuk Çolakoğlu and Emre Tunç Sakaoğlu

A majority of the projects introduced by China within the scope of the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ vision have yet to reach maturity. Nevertheless, the draft outlines prepared for these projects promise great potential in the eyes of many regional countries including Turkey, which have received relevant proposals with great enthusiasm. A combined budget worth nearly $40 billion will be allocated to these projects through which China is planning to boost its influence over Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East in particular. Another objective set by Beijing when introducing the projects in question was to promote China as a leader country which is deemed indispensable for regional stability, development, and integration.
As to the prerequisite for the realization of all the Silk Road projects, reinforcing regional transportation infrastructures and improving intra-regional logistic links come to the fore. In that regard, the ‘Iron Silk Road’ project is expected to form the backbone of a greater vision of multi-dimensional cooperation among Turkey, China, and the rest of the region concerned; and raise the level of relations between these countries to the highest level. Within the scope of the ‘Iron Silk Road’ project, the parties involved hope to put into operation a railway line that passes through China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Central Asian countries before reaching Turkey and Europe. The new railway line will function as the latest continental land bridge and lay the groundwork for the creation of a vast market that is expected to surpass $1 trillion in cumulative volume by virtue of low tariffs, extensive people-to-people contacts, and improved interdependency.

Ankara’s approach to the subject

The main reason why Ankara receives Silk Road projects favorably, and leans toward the idea of actively taking part in the ‘Iron Silk Road’ project in particular, is the firm belief that commercial relations between Turkey and Central Asian countries will be amplified through the actualization of such prospective projects as soon as possible. Through this project, Ankara is also looking forward to capitalize on its geostrategic advantage that essentially derives from lying at the intersection zone of traditional transport routes connecting Europe and Asia. With this project, it wishes to place itself once again at the center of inter-continental transport routes, this time by way of harboring a major railway corridor between Europe and Asia that will facilitate trade in fossil fuels, minerals, and manufactured goods, alongside agricultural products and other raw materials. Besides, Turkey believes the project will set the scene for closer bilateral relations with China based on mutual trust and substantial economic cooperation as new railway lines envisaged by the project will carry a significant quantity of passengers and freight on both directions between the two countries concerned. Moreover, bilateral economic relations will be protected from the potentially disturbing effects of fluctuations in the value of the dollar thanks to two-way trade in national currencies instead. In sum, the ‘Iron Silk Road’ project is seen as a potential leverage that can allow Ankara to become the ultimate playmaker in the Euroasian arena while increasing its economic and political radius of action.