[Viewpoint] The Turkish dream

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[Viewpoint] The Turkish dream

Korea is the world’s 15th largest economy in terms of gross domestic product as of last year. The country’s GDP just topped $1 trillion at $1.015 trillion. Turkey and Indonesia are on its heels, with Turkey’s GDP coming in at 17th with $735. 5 billion and Indonesia’s at 18th with $706.7 billion.

Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, who came up with the acronym BRIC to refer to Brazil, Russia, India and China as emerging economic powers, recently turned his attention to the so-called MIKT economies - Mexico, Indonesia, Korea and Turkey. He predicts the quartet, with solid stock and economic fundamentals, will likely take the lead in global growth. Mexico, the world’s 14th largest economy, slightly edged Korea at $1.034 trillion.

Among the group, Turkey has the most growth potential. The Eurasian country’s global status and clout has been rediscovered amid the European credit crisis and democracy movement in the Arab world. Turkey, which has long aspired to join the European Union, is watching the dangerous spread of the credit crisis in the euro zone with mixed feelings. A 38-year-old Turkish man who runs a tourism business in Istanbul said Turkish people received the news of the EU crisis with both relief and anxiety.

European countries have been snubbing Turkey’s request for membership for various reasons, but now Europe has lost face struggling to defend their economies. But Turkey’s economy, due to geographic proximity, cannot be entirely safe from the epidemic. Nearly half of Turkey’s exports head to the European continent.

The Turkish people are now having second thoughts on winning full membership to the EU. They have seen the economic fallout from Greece’s demise. They now believe accession into the euro zone may not be the best answer. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that the government stands by its long-time dream of joining the euro zone, but many believe the comment may be just political rhetoric.

Turkey last year posted staggering growth of 9 percent. Its growth outperforms the 7.3 percent average among emerging economies. In contrast, the EU expanded merely 1.8 percent. The OECD forecast Turkey to grow at an annual pace of 6.7 percent in 2011-17, the highest among 34 member economies. In the same period, Korea’s economy is expected to grow 4.5 percent annually.

Turkey has regained the spotlight on the global stage because of the democratic wave in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey is the iconic model for Islamic-style democracy. While rooted in Islam, the country upholds its representative democracy based on secularism.

The military traditionally wields strong power, but Erdogan has succeeded in watering down the military’s clout in order to join the EU. Arab states trying to balance religion and democracy could turn to Turkey as a role model. Turkey is trying to capitalize on its newfound status to raise its voice in the region, and Erdogan is eager to fill the regional power vacuum after the Arab Spring.

The Erdogan government envisions GDP of $2 trillion and per capita GDP of $25,000 to become one of the top 10 world economies by 2023, when Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its republic government. For the so-called 2023 vision, Erdogan wants to change the constitution to an American-style presidential system by 2024. Some criticize him as Turkey’s Putin while others argue his charismatic leadership is needed to revive the glory of the ancient Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan, who has served since 2003, is an Islamic fundamentalist yet pursues pragmatism in domestic and foreign affairs. Under his leadership, Turkey has weathered a major earthquake in 1999 and an economic crisis in 2001 through radical reform measures. Although his ambitions as a self-dubbed neo-Ottoman savior raise concerns for some, most - even the intelligentsia - give credit to his achievements in transforming Turkey.

Turkey sits on the crossroads of the West and East, Europe and Asia. It shares borders with eight countries. Thanks to its geographic advantage, the Turks have been dominant in Eurasia for over 600 years. A new chance to revive their glorious past has fallen upon them due to the financial crisis in Europe and Arab uprisings. If they wisely restrain self-pride and nationalism, the country may well emerge as a new power in Eurasia.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Mong-bok
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