BY MUHAMMET ALI GÜLER
JAN 28, 2022 – 12:05 AM GMT+3Illustration by Büşra Öztürk shows the logo of the Organization of Turkic States between the flags of Russia and China, in a symbolic reference to the Turkic nations’ being stuck between the two powers’ agendas in Central Asia.
A strong Turkic nations’ alliance can curb Russian and Chinese expansion attempts in Central Asia
Central Asia is a conjunction where the interests of Russia and China overlap. The region’s abundant natural resources attract the two powers, making them compete for influence. At such a geostrategic location, adopting a unipolar foreign policy is not a fruitful strategy. In this context, forming and activating a Turkic organization where the Turkic world would collectively declare they are neither Russian nor Chinese is inevitable but with their own national values and interests intact.
Regarding the Turkic organization initiative, now called the Organization of Turkic States, there are three outstanding dimensions. The first is an objection to cultural domination and revival of its own identity. The second is a declaration and affirmation that the region is Turkic, not a backyard for China or Russia. Lastly, it can serve as a balance and alternative arena for all sides, particularly in the Moscow-Beijing competition.
It would be illogical to conclude that Russian and Chinese presence in the region does not have any benefit. The latter’s burgeoning economy and political diffusion or the former’s cultural, political and military penetration have its pros and cons. To curb or benefit such realities, the Turkic organization naturally needs to consider the region’s economic, political and security aspects, rather than only cultural purposes.
Perspectives for future
The powerful Turkic union acts as a leveraging pole between the regional neighbors, Russia and China. Cultural awareness prevents the assimilation of Turkic nations in the face of external hegemonic leaders. Education is the key to empowering cultural and linguistic identification, which will be the vanguard against assimilative foreign thoughts. The united diaspora of Turkic nations means a wider soft power on a regional and global scale that will enable members to rebuild their prestige and image.
Transport means a natural connection from China to Europe through the Turkic world. Trade means stronger economic independence from both powers. All these paradigms mean political, economic and security stability. Therefore, it is not rational to be under the Russian or Chinese sphere.
The Russian standpoint
A robust, independent and sovereign Turkic union means balance for Russia as China’s hard and soft powers increase tremendously. There is no guarantee that China will not bring in its territorial claims louder with Russia in the future. Thus, a strong Turkic union may be a strategic companion with Russia to counterbalance expanding Chinese influence in Central Asia.
In other words, a weak Turkic union would mean a lonely Russia in counterbalancing Chinese policies because China’s incomparable developmental march has already outpaced Russia in many domains. Therefore, Russia will require more than nuclear weapons to match the pace of the Chinese era in this century.
What about China?
First, China’s unfulfilled commitments such as 1 million Chinese tourists and the case of Varyag, which I perceive as unilateral gains in favor of Beijing, cause major skepticism in Turkey on whether to consider China as a permanent ally. The skepticism is present despite the two apparently deepening bilateral relations.
A powerful, sovereign and independent Turkic union may offer a mutual win-win situation for China because Central Asia’s reliance on Russia may mean invisible obstacles to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the biggest Chinese project. There will not be a guarantee that the Russian-dominated Turkic union’s perception of the BRI will not shift later. A fragile Turkic organization could mean falling short in terms of crucial natural resources that China needs – a big disadvantage for the initiative and security and an economic blockade for Chinese trade routes. It should be acknowledged that Russia is unlikely to retreat from the region under possible tensions as the Soviets sacrificed East Turkestan.
Currently, the increasing propaganda regarding Central Asia is worrying. Referring to ancient times, China has territorial disagreements with almost all its neighbors. For instance, it is argued in China that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were part of ancient Chinese dynasties. Probably, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan will be next. In the light of such propaganda news in the Chinese state-controlled media, it would not be an exaggeration to say that China may claim all Turkestan as its territory in the future as it does in the South China Sea. Beijing is known for its aims to control 90% of the South China Sea and it may be assertive, threatening and alarming for global peace. China’s expanding territorial claims arise gradually in parallel with their ascending hard power. Therefore, the only deterrent force in such a confrontation will be the Turkic alliance itself and its major allies.
It’s safe to say that the independent, strong and sovereign nations in Central Asia can play a balancing role between the two giants. The domination of one over the other in the region will directly flare up the rivalry as both nations shift the gear in their way, which will automatically lead nations in Central Asia to welcome other major powers positively.
Consequently, within the unity of the organization, Turkic nations should be seen as equal partners, while these countries should realize their true geostrategic potential in their partnership with Beijing and Moscow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holder of master's degree of Human Sciences in Political Science at International Islamic University, Malaysia