Semih İDİZTOKYO - Turkey and Japan are two countries that are worlds apart. Not just geographically but also culturally. Possibly because of the physical distance between them, the two countries have always had highly cordial relations with no bilateral political disputes between them whatsoever. As for the multilateral dimension of political affairs, the two countries share similar views on most regional and global issues.
The picture as far as economic relations are concerned, however, falls into a different category. When it comes to these relations geographic distance is of little relevance. Unlike the political dimension there is always great scope for developing ties since the prime consideration of capital is to seek places for lucrative investments, no matter where these may be in the world.
Gül in Japan:
Because of this Turkey and Japan’s relations are based more on the economic side of the equation that the political. The two counties trade and Turkey also plays host to a number of Japanese investments. Regardless of this, though, the potential for these relations have not been explored to their fullest, and the feeling on both sides is that the current level of economic relations does not represent in any way the economic scale of the two countries.
Japan today has one of the larges economies in the world. It has investments all over the world and is a country that is constantly seeking new opportunities in this respect. The increasing completion from China, India and Korea makes this more imperative that ever for planners in Tokyo.
Turkey on the other hand has the 17th largest economy in the world and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today with its average seven percent growth rate over the past six years. One would have assumed, therefore, that the figures representing the economic relations between the two countries would reflect these facts. Unfortunately this is not the case, and this has become apparent once more with President Abdullah Gül’s current official visit to Japan.
The overall trade figure between the two countries is around the $4 bn. mark were Turkey’s exports to this country are around $360 million, while her imports are around the 2.4 bn. mark. Given the scale of the two economies these are disappointing figures. The volume of Japanese investments in Turkey, on the other hand, while showing a constant increase, nevertheless stands at around $3 bn. today, which is also disappointing given the scale of this country’s economy.
A further point of dissapointment for Turkey is to be seen in the tourism sector. Japan is a country that sends 17 million tourists abroad ever year. However the total number of Japanese tourists visiting Turkey annually stands at a mere 160,000 today.
Put another way, while it can not be said that the two countries to not enjoy any economic relations it is a fact that there is great room for improvement. The overall situation of course forces on to ask why the full potential of these ties have not been developed. This is the question we tried to find and answer too here in Tokyo where we are accompanying the president on his visit. The explanations we have gotten from Turkish sources here, as well as Japanese sources, show a convergence.
The bottom line appears to be that Japanese investors are among the most cautious in the world. Using President Gül’s words, they think not just once or twice but three or four times before taking the leap when it comes to investing. Put briefly overcautious Japanese investors seek stability in countries where they plan to invest in. Turkey, on the other hand, is generally considered to be a Middle Eastern country here. The general view is that the Middle East is a generally unstably geography.
Turkey’s EU perspective, on the other hand, is being watched very carefully. The strength of this perspective appears to be one of the main determinants in orientating Japanese investors to Turkey. Put another way, EU membership for Turkey is seen as the one thing that will stabilize the country beyond doubt and make it safe to put money in for even the most timid of investors.
Support for the EU process:
The fact that Turkish-EU relations are not going so well at the moment, on the other hand, has apparently resonated here also. When issues such as the closure case against the AKP are thrown into the equation, it is the timidity in the Japanese that comes to the fore even more and not the adventurous. While here President Gül is also meeting with scores of businessmen and trying to assure them that Turkey is a country to be invested in. It is noteworthy, however, that of the 85 businessmen accompanying him only the representatives of one group, the Anadolu Group, have signed a deal during this visit.
All of this should carry a message to those in Turkey who want the country to seek alternatives to the EU. They have to realize that Turkey’s ties with the EU represent much more than ties with Europe. It should be apparent to all by now that Turkey’s EU perspective is an endorsement for the country and is being watched all over the world, whether for political or economic reasons. This is one of the things that we have seen at first hand here in Japan.