From September 19 to 25, 2012, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Center at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies visited Turkey as part of the 2012 Asan Middle East Dialogue. The Center met with leading researchers, policymakers, and academics to discuss recent developments in Turkey and their consequences for South Korea’s national interests. The trip also sought to foster greater institutional linkages between the Asan Institute for Policy Studies and prominent Turkish think-tanks and organizations by exploring opportunities for collaborative research and projects.
The discussions during the trip were based around three areas that have the greatest bearing on Korea’s engagement with Turkey and the wider region.
1. The influence of the “Turkish model” in the region.
Turkey has been an important source of inspiration and support in the Middle East in the context of the Arab uprisings. Discussions of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a successful case of political Islam, and Turkey’s recent experience as a thriving market economy-cum-Muslim democracy continues to make it a potential model for others. The consequences of a regional transformation emulating the Turkish political model would have profound implications for the international community. From a Korean perspective, the key question is thus whether this new hybrid political system could promote moderate Islamist politics across the region.
2. The Turkey-Korea economic and trade relationship.
Turkey’s economic transformation under Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s administration has made it a huge potential market for Korea. Importantly, while Korea’s relationship with many Middle Eastern countries remains heavily concentrated in the energy and construction sectors, bilateral trade between these two countries has enormous untapped potential and scope for diverse growth. In this context, the recently-signed free trade agreement was an important part of the discussions.
3. Turkey’s emergence as an influential regional and global actor.
Turkey’s emergence as a regional power is best evidenced by its prominent role in trying to end the conflict in Syria, its mediator role in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, and its support of uprisings across the Middle East. Furthermore, its relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and with a newly-democratic Egypt will all have important implications for the region’s future political landscape. Globally, too, Turkey is increasingly active in an international system that will require the active participation of emerging powers such as Turkey and South Korea in promoting a multilateral, rules-based international order.
Date: September 19-25, 2012
Location: Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey