Although there are significant amounts of differences between Turkey and Japan, mostly these differences can be an asset in a way that complement each other’s capabilities.
It is interesting to see the changing international system and increasing speculation on the forms of partnership behaviors among different actors in international relations. The recent debates on the partnership of secondary powers in the international system provide an important opening for the existing scholarship on this issue. Most of these debates on the partnerships of the secondary powers focus, however, on the balancing of a more powerful actor in international relations and challenging the current hegemony. Although this type of balancing act has been one of the most frequently observed patterns of behavior among secondary powers, the changing global system nowadays can bring new types of thinking and cooperative actions among these states without them trying to balance a third and more powerful actor.
In this context, the relationships between the different existing and emerging powers such as Turkey and Japan can become an important new variable. These two countries share important commonalities in their foreign policy and domestic politics. Both countries are attempting to revise their foreign policy and are trying to be active in different regions that have been neglected previously by their previous foreign policies. The itineraries of the leaders of Japan and Turkey demonstrate that a significantly different form of pro-activism is present in the current trajectory of their foreign policy. Both countries also shifted their mainstream foreign policies following major economic crises and, because of that, both Turkey and Japan put a significant weight on trade relations in their foreign policy initiatives. The two countries also have similar forms of weaknesses, such as a high degree of external dependence for natural resources and fossil fuels and the instability and potential conflicts in their respective regions.
Although there are also significant amounts of differences that exist between Turkey and Japan, mostly these differences can be an asset in a way that complement each other’s capabilities. For instance, Japan is an existing economic power center of the world that, despite economic problems, will continue to be within the top 10 economies of the world in the coming decade. These long years of economic leadership provides a high degree of experience for Japan in navigating its relations with the top economic trends and powers of the world. Turkey, on the other hand, is an emerging economic power with a lot of dynamism and prospects with a vibrant private sector and demography.
Historically friendly relations between the two countries contribute to this situation. There has always been high favorability for Turkey in Japan and high praise of Japan in Turkey. This positive atmosphere will make the job of foreign policy makers on both sides easier as the public is more than ready for the two countries to form a working relationship and improve their level of partnership. In addition to this, these two countries’ similar forms of relationship of with the U.S. also pave the way for a more smooth development of partnership.
In recent years these two countries, partly because of their dependence on external natural resources and partly in an attempt to play a more significant and constructive role in the region, have begun to focus more on the Middle East in their respective foreign policies. Under these circumstances, Turkey and Japan can create a new partnership behavior through which they can contribute to the regional transformation in the Middle East by using their commonalities and shared goals in the region and by complementing their weaknesses. Japan and Turkey can develop ways to prevent, manage and resolve disputes among different actors in the Middle East through close diplomatic and humanitarian cooperation. They can also work together to contribute to the reconstruction efforts of war-torn countries in this region in the aftermath of the conflicts.
Of course, in addition to these mostly soft-power issues, the two countries can also increase their partnership on issues of mutual interest such as energy security and the free flow of natural resources from the region to the world. Considering the potential impacts caused by the disruption of these resources to the economies of these two countries, this issue can become a major field of cooperation. More importantly, the recent hostage taking and beheading of Japanese hostages by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also raised the necessity for Turkey and Japan to cooperate on hardcore security issues and intelligence cooperation in order to fight against common threats in the region. As the region enters one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable phases in its history, the potential areas that Turkey and Japan can cooperate in are also increasing. The ad hoc cooperation between the two countries and rhetorical commitment for the improvement of relations needs to be strategized in order to provide a long term and comprehensive coordination of the policies on the Middle East. The close relations at the leadership level needs to spill over to the diplomatic and bureaucratic level as well. Public favorability on both sides should also be strengthened with increasing social and cultural relations. If the two countries take these important steps, their coordination and cooperation may also become a model for other existing and emerging powers in the international system.
This article was originally published in the Daily Sabah on March 15, 2015.