Kurdish troops liberate the town of Sinjar, Iraq
Fehim Tastekin

-OpEd-

ANTALYA â€" Opportunism may be one of the accepted facts of life in foreign policy, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing. The Turkish government is busy right now trying to make the most of two pieces of the Syrian crisis that have come to the fore: The recent flood of refugees to Europe, and the ISIS attacks in Paris. They are both likely to backfire.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's coy question “What would happen if these 2.2 million refugees get out of Turkey and start marching towards the EU?” is a cheap bargaining trick to say the least, attempting to introduce the destiny of desperate Syrian as a new unofficial dossier in EU-Turkey relations.

But now, the number of locks on the door of Europe is likely to rise as information circulates that one of the Paris attackers may have been a Syrian refugee who passed through Turkey. Will the negotiations move towards a buffer zone plan, or will the sides leave the with-or-without-Assad debate aside, and concentrate on ending the war in Syria as quickly as possible?

But let's be clear: Ankara is playing the terrorism card at the very moment that the Paris attacks strengthen the decisiveness to combat ISIS. Erdogan condemned the Paris attacks, calling for "a consensus of the international community against terrorism." But in his mind, this consensus means adding Kurdish forces to the EU list of terrorist organizations. The U.S. and the EU already recognize the historical Kurdish organization PKK as terrorists, but Ankara also wants the West to end its recent collaboration with the Kurdish groups, PYD and YPG, in the military fight against ISIS.

Assad, stay or go?

But the Paris attacks underlined the urgency for a broader solution in Syria, and that requires the U.S. and Russia to work together. Led by France, the West is now looking to get in line with Russia and put aside plans to overthrow the Damascus regime in favor of focusing on the defeat of ISIS.

The Vienna gathering on Saturday came just after the terror attack in Paris. A transition government is to be founded in Syria within six months, and UN-observed elections are to be held within 18 months according to the new constitution to be written. The ideal date for the Syrian government and the opposition groups to start talks under UN observation is Jan. 1.

So, ever more, it appears that the transition will be with Assad, though there is no clue about the long-term fate of Assad. The Russians are selling this by saying "the people at the ballot will decide, while the Americans appear ever more helpless and biding their time.

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu insisted Assad will not run in the elections, and his exit will occur according to a process to be decided later. Russia is no longer pushing Assad to stay, according to Sinirlioglu.

Ever more, the Syrian issue is starting to be perceived within the context of "combating terrorism," which is also to Moscow's liking, though Turkey's desire to add the PYD and YPG to the terrorism list is not.

As people wonder whether the Paris attacks are a turning point in the battle against ISIS, some began to ask if the West would launch a ground war. Obama quickly ended such speculations at the recent G20 summit.

While the rest of the world begins to coalesce in the battle against ISIS, Turkey seems to care about nothing except stopping Kurds from moving west of the Euphrates. If this ends up standing in the way of a united front against ISIS, the whole world would suffer. And the allies would remember Turkey's blatant opportunism for a long time to come.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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