11. Cumhurbaşkanımız Sayın Abdullah Gül'ün Astana Club 2017 Etkinliğinde Yaptığı Konuşma

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Introductory remarks

I would first like to thank President Nazarbayev for holding this session, and his kind invitation. Under his leadership, Kazakhstan has become a place where the region’s leaders meet to discuss important issues. The Astana talks on Syria are only one such example. I hope that our session today proves similarly fruitful.

Our region has embarked on a momentous shift. As we all know, the world’s economic and political center of gravity is moving towards Asia. Our grandchildren could live in a world in which power is far more diffused than it is today. This is a great opportunity for Asia. If global leaders manage this transition well, it could mean more peace and prosperity for everyone.

We are used to focusing on Eurasia’s various regions, like Europe, Far East Asia, South-East Asia, but we are now approaching a time when we have to adopt a more holistic approach. These groupings exist, we shouldn’t deny that, but we need to look at the connections between them.

The central challenge is to manage this better than we have been doing in the late 20th, early 21st century.

Clash of interests of world powers in Eurasia (The United States, Russia, China and the EU)

World powers have long vied for influence in Asia. In the 19th century, we had the British and Russian Empires vying for influence in the so-called “Great Game.” During the Cold War, we had the United States and Russia fight proxy battles across the continent. China quietly rose at this time, and has redefined global economic competition today. Looking at this history, it is clear that the interests of great powers will continue to clash over Eurasia. The question is not how to avoid this, but how to channel it into healthy avenues that yield better lives for our citizens.

In the 1990s, the United States had won the Cold War, and it seemed that the strategic guidance of the United States and Europe’s commercial influence would be the defining forces in shaping Eurasia’s future. In our neighborhood for example, we built the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline that carried Caspian oil to the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan. During this time, it seemed like the Western liberal order would be the dominant force across the world, including Asia.

In some ways, this happened, in other ways it did not. Asia has joined the global economy, but globalization is no longer led solely by the West. Powers like China and Russia are making their own plans of connecting cultures and economies.

Now China is quickly becoming very influential in Eurasia. Its strategic framework is the Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to invest heavily into the development of East-West trade routes, and with them global value chains. It has created the financial institutions to fund this endeavor, and appears to be serious about building the political connections to make it happen. This is a very welcome development.

A significant part of this is a physical shift from maritime trade to land-based trade. Currently, China conducts about 60 percent of its trade by sea, whereas the EU only conducts 22 percent of its trade by sea, and the rest by land. The Belt and Road initiative aims to change that by investing into rail and road networks on a continental scale. This means that vast stretches of Central and South-East Asia that have largely been excluded from globalization are now going to be developed. It is an often-cited fact that Central Asia especially is the least-connected landmass in the world, and has much to gain from new infrastructure. That makes the Chinese initiative all the more important.

Russia has an economic vision of its own, and has introduced the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) a framework for economic cooperation. The EEU creates what is called “soft infrastructure,” meaning that it clears away barriers to trade and makes it easier for companies in Central Asia to trade with one another. I know that the private sector, including large multinational companies, have taken note of this and are looking to invest in the region to reap its benefits.

I believe that China and Russia’s outreach to the region’s countries is a very positive development. This does not mean however, that we should try to set up a new order in competition with the Western-led liberal institutions of the 20th century.

This is why President Xi Jinping’s speech in Davos last year, in which he argued for open markets, was an important turning point. Globalization in the 20th century was led by Europe and the United States, and their contributions will continue to be important. Our countries should build on their gains, rather than work against them.

In past centuries, competition over Eurasia involved proxy wars and espionage. We should be under no illusions that violence can be avoided entirely. But if we set up the foundations of a rule based system and economic competition, we can minimize the risks and spread the gains more widely.

The future of Eurasian integration: the challenges of cooperation

There are several significant threats to cooperation in the region. It is important that these issues are managed before they escalate, at which point they become far harder to manage.

One threat is the rise of radical political ideas. These are often religious in nature, such as Myanmar’s crackdown on Muslims based on the idea of a unitary Buddhist country. Repressive actions like these play into the hands of radical Salafi-Jihadist groups across Eurasia. If Asian countries continue to be repressive of religious groups, I see a spiral of violence that could sow distrust between regional states as well as global powers.

Another threat is the mismanagement of economic growth. There are various aspects to this. Fast-growing countries for example, often fail to manage their population movement, and we see the development of large cities where poverty and lawlessness cause political unrest. Once this happens, it is very difficult to reverse. We in Turkey still suffer the consequences of rapid urbanization. In the 1950s, about 20 percent of Turkey was urbanized. Now about 70 percent of the country lives in cities. This brought large economic growth to the country, but also meant a big social adjustment. Asian countries need to be aware of this tradeoff and act accordingly.

Populism is another challenge. It is easy for leaders in the East and West to garner support by painting the other as the enemy. We should not give in to this populist reflex. These emotions might fuel short-term politics, but they are damaging to developing nations’ political climates. Countries that keep these emotions at bay will be more successful in the long run.

The role of regional players in the development of Eurasia in 10 years

Regional players are countries like Turkey and Kazakhstan, which have important roles to play, but do not have the continental or global reach of the major powers.

I understand that Kazakhstan for example, is diversifying its economy by making energy deals with Europe. This is a wise decision.

Another decision Kazakhstan has made is the training of its bureaucratic elite. This country places great importance in a highly skilled bureaucracy that follows global markets and plans the country’s development carefully. This is highly significant.

I think we should also not neglect the political development of our systems. An open society, the freedom of thought and expression are not Western ideals, but universal ones. We should take this seriously, while keeping in mind the potential pitfalls of politics.

Thank you very much. I hope we can have a fruitful discussion on these issues.

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