Geopolitics

The Best Thing Turkey Has Done In A While

Turkey's fraught relationship with Europe and the U.S. should be bolstered by its impressive response to the refugee crisis in neighboring Syria. But now will the West step up?

Syrian girls playing jump rope in Tarlabasi, Istanbul
Stefan Kornelius

-Commentary-

MUNICH – With little public fanfare, Turkey is currently in the process of seeing through quite a humanitarian and political feat. Some 1.5 million Syrian refugees have crossed its border and are either living in camps or have made their way through the countryside to the cities. In Istanbul, they beg on the streets. But on the whole, refugees in Turkey are looked after with devotion and at high cost to government administrations. Most of all, they are accepted and adopted on a human level.

Now Turkish leaders are admonishing the rest of the world, and particularly Europeans, for a lack of willingness to help. And indeed help is shamefully inconspicuous. While the European Commission just made the grand gesture of approving a further 215 million euros for the Syrian crisis region, only 50 million flows directly for humanitarian aid, and a fraction of that to Turkey.

This behavior is noteworthy because Turkey is an ally accorded the highest strategic importance in NATO, but also with regard to all European Union programs. The stability of Turkey, its political and military vulnerability and its influence in the region — whether on Russia or its Muslim neighbors — is of the highest relevance. So why isn't this being discussed?

(Photo : © Hans Van Rhoon/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA)

Contradictions and commuters

There are always reasons. The years since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected prime minister have divided Turkey and its allies. The EU membership process is just that — a process. Turkey doesn't want to join the Union, and the EU doesn't want to accept it. Erdogan's influence on other Muslim states is erratic and lacks transparency.

Turkey has to fight major contradictions where its approach to the war in Syria is concerned. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became an enemy. The rebels were overwhelmed by terrorist militias, yet Turkey itself is allegedly one of the major recruiting countries for the Islamists.

In any case, Turkey has become a transit country for international terrorist "commuters" — who can cross back and forth across borders at any time. But if Ankara sides too much with one faction or the other, it becomes an easy target. If Erdogan strengthens the Kurds, then he's bound to help usher in the separatist problem.

All of these are well-founded concerns that mean Turkey would really prefer to deal with the refugee problem on its own. But it won't go well. That is why Erdogan's speech to the UN General Assembly must be understood as an invitation to get involved.

Turkey needs money? That shouldn't be a hindrance, but money alone isn't enough. NATO should talk openly with its most important allies about the security of alliance borders. The EU can not only change its refugee policy, but must take the lead with Turkey about controlling the jihad "commuters."

Turkey has to know now that it has allies. Otherwise, the allies are going to have to live with the charge that they let the country down — and, perhaps, lost it to the enemies.

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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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