The entire world is looking at China as a unique rogue State that can single-handedly disturb the rules-based world order. But far away from the Indo-Pacific, another bully- Erdoğan’s Turkey, has taken birth. This bully though smaller in size is as pernicious as China.
Prima facie, it may be absurd to compare a Red China with an Islamist Turkey. But the two regimes do share a strong semblance. Both Xi Jinping and Erdoğan try to weigh down the international law in their interactions beyond their boundaries. Both of them also share an affinity for authoritarianism bordering on brutal dictatorship that tantamounts to bullying their own citizens.
From a larger global perspective, an Islamist Turkey is as revisionist as a Communist China. Both of them are expansionist at sea, disruptionist on land and extortionist in their transactions with other countries. The world is currently facing two rogue States located in strategically significant locations.
The entire world is naturally perturbed with Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea. China’s “nine-dash line” theory encircles 90 per cent of the strategic waterways running as far as 2,000 kilometres from mainland China.
Chinese claims have no recognition in international law and with aggressive naval activities, Beijing constantly threatens to disrupt global commons as well as the territorial waters of certain ASEAN countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Blue Homeland” doctrine in the Mediterranean is not very different from China’s “nine-line dash”.
The doctrine allows Erdoğan to ‘defend’ Turkey’s off-shore sovereign interests and how? Ankara constantly crosses swords with the Eastern Mediterranean countries like Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in order to pursue its own extra-legal claims in the Mediterranean Sea.
Turkey is the only country in the Eastern Mediterranean that has disputes with all its maritime neighbours in the region. With a hawkish Erdoğan at the helm of affairs, Turkey has started crossing the dangerous red line.
Other players in the Eastern Mediterranean have formed a consortium to fight Turkish expansionism in the maritime region. Therefore, Turkey launched a major offensive in Libya.
Apart from violating the international arms embargo in Libya, Ankara signed an agreement with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli last November. The unequal border-mapping deal allows Turkey to claim an extensive continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Interestingly, Turkey fenced off major parts of the Sea encircling areas that lie immediately at the shores of Greece and Cyprus. Erdoğan has even submitted this agreement having no validity in international law to the United Nations.
Turkey is as transactional as China, hence it promised military assistance to Libya in return of the border-mapping deal. The military assistance might be in violation of an arms embargo and it might threaten the interests of the entire Mediterranean but Erdoğan doesn’t care. He only wants more and more territory.
Apart from the maritime zone, Turkey can be really belligerent on land. Ankara’s hate for status quo in the Eastern Mediterranean matches up to Chinese hate for status quo in the Himalayas.
Cyprus, for example, was violently partitioned by Turkey in 1974, after an invasion, which ultimately led to the Turkish occupation of a major part of Cyprus by the end of the invasion. More recently, Turkey has been trying to occupy parts of what is left of Cyprus and has been at odds with Greece for this reason.
One of the major motivations behind the Cyprus invasion of 1974 was, of course, the discovery of rich gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey wants to reserve these resources for itself by artificially enlarging its territorial and maritime claims.
Turkey doesn’t treat its occupied territories any better than the Chinese occupied territories. Just like Beijing is tormenting the Tibetans, Erdoğan has been spewing hate against the Turkish Cypriot breakaway statelet.
In Syria, Turkey has been helping the ISIS in every possible way. Only last year, Erdoğan used mercenaries and Jihadist cronies to invade Northwestern Syria or Idlib. The reckless mercenaries committed some of the most brutal crimes upon the Kurd rebels in the region. The Kurdish fighters have been instrumental in dismantling the ISIS “Caliphate”.
Over the recent past, Erdoğan has actively used extortion as a tool in international engagement. During the Syrian invasion itself, he had threatened to release hundreds of thousands of refugees of the Syrian civil war if Europe condemned his unilateral move.
This year, he actually unleashed thousands of refugees into the Greece and Bulgarian borders when the NATO refused to help him in his Syrian battles with Russia.
These 3.7 million Syrian refugees whom Erdoğan uses as a blackmailing tool have been residing in Turkey for several years. Erdoğan also receives prolific funds from the EU for their upkeep. But you cannot really strike a deal with a rogue State, can you?
Turkey is a back-stabber and extortionist that uses the most primitive and barbarian of tactics. These are characteristics which one would more generally associate with Beijing. However, Erdoğan is adamant on reducing Turkey into a bully as obnoxious as China.
Turkey is an intrinsically brutal player. During the First World War, the erstwhile Ottoman empire had carried out the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. Till date, Turkey hasn’t apologised for the genocide. In the present era, this is comparable only with the Uighur Muslim concentration camps in China’s far Western Xinjiang province.
The world must rein in the belligerent Dragon, but at the same time, Turkey shouldn’t be allowed to go scot-free for disrupting global peace in the Eastern Mediterranean region.