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CONFIRMED: Turkey to expand trade ties with Vietnam

The implications are wide reaching for Turkey, Vietnam and also China.

Vietnam’s economic expansion is set to grow further as Turkey has expressed its commitment to expand economic ties with Hanoi.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has stated,

“Our country will maintain its strategy to increase its trade and economic effectiveness in the Far East, mainly in Asian market.

Cooperating with a country that has high strategic importance like Vietnam and taking this cooperation further are among our priorities… Turkish investors contribute to Vietnam’s economy by investing over $700 million”.

Sputnik further reports,

“According to Yildirim, the trade volume between Turkey and Vietnam is estimated at below $2 billion, while Ankara is determined to raise it up to $4 billion by 2020”.

This is significant for several reasons.

First of all, this comes shortly after Turkey affirmed its increasingly strong bonds with China, so much so that Turkey has promised to clamp down on anti-Chinese sentiments in privately owned Turkish media.

China in turn thanked Turkey for its friendship and solidarity. As a crucial spot along China’s One Belt–One Road, Ankara’s relationship with Beijing will only continue to grow. Turkey’s President Erdogan to this end, participated enthusiastically in the One Belt–One Road Forum held in Beijing during May of 2017. At the Forum, he appeared to enjoy warm relations with both Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi, who themselves are extremely close.

With Philippines agreeing to cooperate with China over South China Sea claims, a move introduced by President Duterte, Vietnam is now the South Asian Country which at least in terms of rhetoric presents China with its greatest political opposition in South East Asia.

This being said, just as the economic realities of a post Cold War world turned Vietnam’s economic into one that has surged and continues to pursue long distance global trade relations, the best hope for any kind of rapprochement between Hanoi and Beijing is for mutual economic interests to be intertwined and lead to a new political reality based on cooperation and pragmatism rather than hostility and suspicion.

Geopolitical expert Andrew Korbyko writes,

“Vietnam is currently one of the US’ closest strategic partners in the South China Sea, with bilateral relations on the strong upswing out of the shared economic interests and the joint vision of containing China. While ties are unprecedentedly positive between these two states, Vietnam might one day begin reasserting its strategic sovereignty against the US vis-à-vis a possible improvement of relations with China.

That doesn’t look all that probable in the given moment, but it certainly can’t be disregarded, especially since China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and likely will remain so for at least the rest of the decade…In the event that Vietnam more pragmatically engages China and perhaps even chooses to fully participate in the One Belt One Road project, then it would draw the strong consternation of the US, whether this is publicly expressed or relegated to backdoor talks”.

While Vietnam trades with China for clearly pragmatic reasons, in working with countries that already have good or growing economic and political relations with China, Vietnam may  ultimately be convinced that as a thriving, young Asian economy, its destiny will lie increasingly with the countries that are either intrinsic to the wider Asian economy and other countries in Eurasia like Turkey whose young workforce represents and economy that is increasingly Asian rather than European in outlook and overall production capacity.

The other key Eurasian power is Russia. The Soviet Union’s closest Asian allies during the Cold War were India in South Asia and Vietnam in South East Asia. While under the Modi Premiership, India is pivoting itself into a corner by turning west, Vietnam remains close to Moscow as it always has been since achieving independence.

What has changed is that where Moscow once saw Hanoi as a means of containing China, now Russia and China constitute the world’s most strong and important allience. With the weight of the Russian superpower combined with the magnetism of Turkey pulling Vietnam back to a uniformly Asian and Eurasian way of thinking, this could be the slow/gradual beginning of a much awaited rapprochement between Hanoi and Beijing.

China realised as early as the 2000s, if not earlier, that the US market will generally be a friendly place for Asian goods because the US needs them and apart from a fully-fledged trade war or a military conflict, there is little that any US leader can do to change this. This is something Donald Trump may be finding out the hard way. Luckily for Vietnam, Hanoi can still come to this realisation the easy way.

While sceptics will say that such rapprochement is next to impossible, one must consider how far Rodrigo Duterte has shifted the geo-political/geo-strategic alignment of Philippines in just over one short year. This has been accomplished in a country that is manifestly more difficult to govern than Vietnam due to a more confrontational political system, higher levels of corruption which stem from a more American style of governance and the ongoing/escalating conflict in Mindanao.

Turkey and Philippines are two examples of countries that have broadly changed their geo-political alignments in a very short time. Turkey and Philippines have both done so under circumstances which are far more confrontational than anything comparable in domestic Vietnamese politics. India too has altered its stance in this way, albeit in the other direction.

Thus, when all is said and done, the economic and pragmatic lessons of Asia and Eurasia’s economies means that anything is indeed possible, even when history might dictate the contrary.

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