Eurasia Transport Corridors: New Ways for Cooperation, Geopolitics or Economic Opportunities

After China’s president Mr Xi Jinping announced the Chinese version of New Silk Project in September 2013 in Kazakhstan, and referred to a strategic link from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic States, all Eurasian countries, including Turkey, started to discuss the nature of the New Silk Road project and new Eurasian transport corridors or networks in this regard. The New Silk Road and the new concept of One Belt - One Road (OBOR) has sparked the debate where American, European and Chinese versions of the projects are competing.

Principally speaking, all economic and societal efforts or tools to boost the regional cooperation, integration, collaboration, partnership, or synergy are welcomed by Turkey. Turkish policy makers basically believe that further cooperation, integration and interdependence in terms of regional economy, trade, and transportation will boost the chances for regional and international peace, security and prosperity.

In addition to the European initiative TRACE- CA, the American New Silk Road meant to integrate Afghanistan into the region. The project includes resuming traditional trading routes and reconstruction of infrastructure, creating new North-South transit and trade routes connecting

Central Asian states, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and others. The projects need not only reliable and good quality roads, bridges and borders, but also the harmonized national customs systems and reduction of the legal, formal and informal barriers in this regard.

The Chinese Silk Road initiative refers to a trade route stretching by land from China, through Central Asia, Iran, Iraq and Turkey before crossing the Bosphorus into Northwest Europe. The project is beyond the New Eurasian Land Bridge. The New Eurasian Land Bridge originally referred to the rail links from the coastal city of Lianyungang through China to Kazakhstan and Iran, finally crossing under

the Marmara Sea in Turkey. It provides uninterrupted rail link from China to Europe. The route would supplement the Trans-Siberian Railway that already operates the two regular freight connections from China to Germany. This one also includes maritime link stretching by sea from China though the Indian Ocean.

Turkey welcomes all initiatives in Eurasia and underlines the significance of the Middle/Central Corridor, in addition to the North and South corridors. The Middle or Central Corridor that would include the Baku-Tblisi-Kars Railway, which will provide uninterrupted rail connection from London to China via Kazakstan and Turkmenistan, links with the train-ferry lines crossing the Caspian Sea. The project has become more important when the deepest Marmaray rail tunnel was opened in 2013. Thus, the Marmaray tunnel connects Asia to Europe across the Bosphorus under the Marmara Sea.

Turkey is working now on the new projects which will provide additional rail and motorways connection of the East with the West. The Eurasia Tunnel crossing the Istanbul Strait will be completed 2016 and the third bridge over the Istanbul Straits will be completed at the end of 2015. Furthermore, Turkish Prime Minister recently announced the project of the three-layered tunnel under the Istanbul Strait that will include separate rails and motorways.

All these and other projects are to increase Turkey’s contribution to the revival of the Great Silk Road. It is clear these Silk Road initiatives will serve a more prosper, secure and modern Eurasia. They will expand national and regional markets and the scales of national economies, boots the regional cooperation among the Eurasian nations. All of them provide for extensive movements of goods and services that will create a sort of economic interdependency among the Eurasian nations that, in turn, means more trust and less conflict.

The international relations discipline recognizes the concept of doux commerce, i.e. soothing effect of bilateral or multilateral trade. All these projects shall also facilitate transnational movements and exchange of ideas and people across the borders. The increasing transnational mobility may cause some security concerns in certain states. However, I believe, in the long run, it will be beneficial to the regional cooperation, prosperity and security.

The geopolitical future of Eurasia will depend on four basic global variables: the American reevaluation of the New Silk Road initiative after shifting its strategic orientation towards Asia; Chinese political, economic, and social policies toward the region; the tensions between Russia and the West after the Ukraine/Crimea crisis; and the Sino-Russia relations.

There is a real danger that all these initiatives may be jeopardized as the Eurasian region will remain the arena for the political and economic competition by the global powers that may evolve into proxy conflicts. The Eurasian nations should benefit from all these initiatives as they would lead to more regional integration, cooperation and interdependency. Their successful realization should help to avoid the dangers of the aggravated geopolitical competition that risks jeopardizing the entire Eurasian peace and security.

Year: 2015
City: Almaty