Ankara is tightening relations with Tokyo to bolster its influence in a volatile region
The Japanese and Turkish governments made commitments to improving bilateral relations across many sectors during a trade and culture summit held in Japan earlier this week. Leaders from both nations expressed hope that a stronger alliance will foster stability in the Middle East while expanding commercial opportunities.
The Turkish delegation, led by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, met in Tokyo with Japanese businessmen and high-ranking government officials including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We had a meeting with Prime Minister [Shinzo Abe] of Japan. Our relations with Japan… continue to grow steadily in all fields,” Cavusoglu wrote in a tweet, while drawing attention to Japan’s upcoming 2019 chairmanship of the G20, a global forum for the world’s leading economies.
Wayne Cox, professor of Political Studies at Queens University, told The Media Line that Ankara is building relations with Tokyo to diversify its foreign relations as much as possible.
“Turkey sees itself as an aspiring and emerging regional power. And while it continues to curry favor with other Arab countries, it is still focused on building ties with Western-aligned nations outside of NATO due to its falling chances of eventually joining the European Union,” Cox said.
“Japan, being one of the primary developed economies in Asia, fits Turkey’s strategic plan very well,” he added.
Leaders from both countries have already undertaken initiatives to enhance ties. Notable among these was the release of Japanese reporter Jumpei Yasuda in October. Yasuda, who arrived in Syria in 2015 to cover the civil war, was kidnapped by an al-Qa’ida-linked group and detained pending ransom. Both governments deny that any payment was made for Yasuda’s release.
Analysts have noted that closer strategic links will result in economic dividends for both nations. Ankara has emphasized its role as a gateway for goods and services into Middle Eastern markets, as well as an entry point for commerce with Europe.
Japan, on the other hand, “has an interest in expanding its engagement in other spheres of global governance,” Edward Danks, a research coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies, told The Media Line. “However, since Japan is constitutionally unable to have a standing army, it has to expand into this role through different means than those of other countries.
“Turkey, being in the bridge between Europe and Asia, serves as a strategic location for Japan’s global interests. The attention on Turkey follows Abe’s visit to the Balkans, a trip intended to garner support for bilateral investment in the context of China’s growing presence in the region,” Danks added.
The partnership between the two countries is a way of shoring Turkey’s economic security as well as its clout in a turbulent region, analysts say. But it also includes a cultural component.
For example, Cavusoglu recently announced that 2019 would be celebrated as the “Year of Turkish Culture in Japan.”
(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)