Turkey's Foreign Policy, And A Crisis Of Identity

Influential abroad? A pro-Erdogan rally in Gaza in March
Influential abroad? A pro-Erdogan rally in Gaza in March
Suat Kiniklioglu

ANKARA — Turkish foreign policy is having a serious identity crisis.

The Turkey that had largely achieved an equilibrium in its relations with the West and the East, a shining star in the international arena between 2003 and 2010, unfortunately no longer exists. The high morale and sense of moral superiority of being a country with a developing democracy and growing economy is nowhere to be found.

Let us not be too gentle with ourselves. Today, we are a country with weaker ties to the West, conflicts with neighbors, limited vision due to a religious sectarian mentality and the inability to effectively react to developments. Even ordinary citizens are aware that there is a great difference between the country's current capacity and its past ambitions of exerting influential foreign policy.

From Syria to Egypt, Iraq to Gaza, the contrast between what we say and what happens on the field is striking. Even the traditional consumers of domestic policy rhetorics such as “Erdogan: a world leader” or “Turkey: a global power” are unhappy. Because they also know that we have said that “our patience should not be tested” several times and now we no longer possess neither deterrence nor plausibility.

Turkish citizens also see the destructiveness of the emerging terrorist organization called ISIS, which has taken our diplomats, their families and special forces members hostage in Mosul — just 100 kilometers away from our border. They also see that although we have set ourselves on a path for “zero problems with neighbors,” we are now without ambassadors in some of the most important capitals of the Middle East.

In addition to these foreign factors, there are also the reverberations at home. Even as the Foreign Ministry's stature diminishes, there is a new vanity that considers everything before the AKP era as “elitist” — while we should see it as only natural to benefit from previous experience.

Our diplomats are restless and suffering low morale. There is a with-us-or-against-us division at the Foreign Ministry, as whispered rumors in Ankara talk about how “trustworthy parties” keep parallel reports at some embassies and work as snitches for the government against the ambassadors.

There are many other examples, and Turkey finds itself with a foreign policy that is completely stuck. Rather than trying to explain this situation by listing a series of recent events, we should acknowledge that the problem has deeper roots.

We live in a country where the government defines our national interests not within the frame of a nation, but within the paradigm of Ummah, the community of Muslims. The problem is that the government follows the idea of a Sunni Ummah ideal with a neo-Ottoman twist, instead of securing the nation's interests and priorities. They imagine Turkey will be the head of this imaginary Ummah.

Of course, this policy has virtually nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, and persisting on this path may cause us serious damage.

Today, the real issue that should be driving our foreign policy is the domestic conflict on identity, and how that connects with other countries. The issue is using foreign policy as a tool for the fight at home, which is hurting Turkey's credibility, its traditional alliances and reputation. Turkey's national interests are being hurt and the country's effectiveness degraded.

This situation limits our means for helping others in need, like those in Gaza.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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