On February 22, 2021, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Turkey, the Student Association of Belt and Road Initiative (SABRI) of Tsinghua University published an interview with Turkey Wealth Fund (TWF) CEO Zafer Sönmez, titled "The Belt And Road Initiative Is An Important Step In Steering The World From Unipolarity To Multipolarity."
In the interview, Sönmez stressed that China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is not just about infrastructure projects; but it closely integrates each of China's strategic initiatives with those of other countries around the world. As such, Sönmez opined, the BRI is "one of the most important steps" in steering the world from a unipolar order, in which the United States is the only great power that emerged after the end of the Cold War, to a multipolar order. Sönmez added that the goal to move from unipolarity to multipolarity is "highly consistent" with Turkey's "360° strategy" in international affairs.
Sönmez also stressed that Turkey believes that under the guidance of Chinese leaders, Ankara will play a more active role in BRI affairs. According to Sönmez, the Middle Corridor project, with its vision of reviving the ancient Silk Road, has a natural synergy with the BRI.
As Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested on its website: "The Middle Corridor initiative, envisaging the revival of the ancient Silk Road, creates a natural synergy with the Belt and Road Initiative of the People's Republic of China, which aims at developing connectivity between east and west. In this framework, Turkey supports the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on the basis of the 'win-win' principle."
It is worth noting that in August 2020, Sönmez said that the TWF, which was established in 2016 as the national sovereign wealth fund and is chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is looking to China for investment in major infrastructure projects. Sönmez talked about plans to get Turkey much more deeply involved in China's BRI by "creating platforms and institutions that can team up with Chinese institutions." He then added that Turkey is "unfortunately lagging behind" on the BRI, when it could be a key player.
Zafer Sönmez (Source: bit.ly/3snE0k7)
Following is Sönmez's interview with SABRI:
"Turkey Was A Key Node Of The Ancient Land And Sea Silk Roads"
"Nestled between three continents and five seas, Turkey was a key node of the ancient land and sea Silk Roads, and a natural partner in the joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) today.
"Turkey initiated the BRI, signed a memorandum of cooperation in 2015 within the BRI framework, and became a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Turkey Wealth Fund (TWF), established in 2016 and chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is an important strategic investment institution and equity asset allocation solution provider in Turkey with a robust and extensive portfolio of industries.
"In 2021, the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Turkey and the People's Republic of China, the TWF will open an office in Beijing to strengthen cooperation with China in various fields to mark this pivotal milestone. On Chinese New Year's Eve, TWF CEO Zafer Sönmez, was interviewed by the Student Association of Belt and Road Initiative (SABRI) of Tsinghua University..."
"The Mission And Strategic Plan Of The Turkey Wealth Fund (TWF) Are Guided By Four Strategic Pillars"
SABRI: "Hello, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview, could you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers and share with them the vision of the TWF?"
Sönmez: "I worked for more than six years at the Khazanah Nasional Berhad [KNB, the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia], one of the world's most unique sovereign funds, where I held a variety of key positions, so when His Excellency President Erdoğan of Turkey was looking at reshuffling the management of TWF, my experience in Malaysia qualified me for the position. I began my term by establishing an asset-backed development fund structure similar to KNB and my first priority was to define TWF's mission while developing a more efficient governance scheme, strict accountability, and greater transparency in policy making.
"The mission and strategic plan of the TWF are guided by four strategic pillars: enhancing the value of the investment portfolio, providing capital for strategic investments in Turkey, making equity investments that support Turkey's international economic objectives, and deepening and reforming the Turkish financial markets. These four strategic pillars will be supported by four core resources, namely finance, corporate governance, principles and values, and human resources.
"Turkey is a debt-driven market with a lower than desirable savings base, so in the past sovereign equity investment platforms have been neglected. In the past two years we have been working to close this gap. As a result of our continued positive results, the international investment environment holds us in a positive light. In the last three years, in addition to improving governance levels, accountability and transparency, we have started actual transactions and resolved historical issues such as the Turkcell deal [Turkcell is the leading mobile phone operator in Turkey and is owned by TWF] and the construction of the Istanbul Financial Center."
"Both Turkey And China Play A Part In Enhancing Africa's Soft Power"
SABRI: "Turkey is located at the choke point of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. What is TWF's strategy for the countries in this region, especially for China on the other side of the Eurasian continent?"
Sönmez: "Africa has a vast land area and an even greater potential. Turkey is the best gateway to the east and west coasts of Africa, and it is one of the few countries that does not view Africa from a colonial perspective. Therefore, Turkey can be clearly defined as a neutral investor in Africa. In this sense, both Turkey and China play a part in enhancing Africa's soft power.
"TWF's approach to Africa is not commercial, but strategic. Taking advantage of its geographic location at the crossroads of three continents, Turkey is at the forefront of developing a comprehensive understanding of all three.
"We maintain close ties with Chinese government funds such as China Investment Corporation (CIC) or the Silk Road Fund, where TWF fills a gap that previously existed between these institutions and partner institutions in Turkey."
"The Middle Corridor Project, With Its Vision Of Reviving The Ancient Silk Road, Has A Natural Synergy With The BRI"
SABRI: "China's Belt and Road Initiative aims to strengthen infrastructure and connectivity for countries around the world. However, in the past few years, the international community has expressed different and often contradictory views on this initiative. What are your thoughts on the BRI and exchanges with China after working on BRI-related projects?
"Based on your assessment of the future of the BRI, what role do you expect Turkey to play in this framework? For example, what does the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs mean when it says that 'the Middle Corridor initiative... has a natural synergy with the PRC's BRI?'"
Sönmez: "The BRI is one of the most innovative and revolutionary global projects of the 21st century. We believe that under the guidance of Chinese leaders, Turkey will play a more active role in BRI affairs.
"The Belt and Road is not just about infrastructure projects; it closely integrates each of China's strategic initiatives with those of other countries around the world. As such, the BRI is one of the most important steps in steering the world from unipolarity to multipolarity. This is highly consistent with Turkey's 360° strategy in international affairs.
"In the past two years, Turkey has given priority to supporting investment initiatives. TWF's mission is to solve Turkey's strategic problems. We hope to become China's preferred partner in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
"The Middle Corridor initiative, or the Middle Corridor for short, was launched by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote regional economic cooperation between Asia and Europe. The corridor runs from Turkey, through Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, across the Caspian Sea, through Central Asia and to China. Of the approximately 10 million containers that were shipped from China to Europe over the past year, 96% were transported by sea and only the remaining 4% were transported using the Siberian Railway, namely the Northern Corridor. On the other hand, as a trade route between Europe and Asia, the Middle Corridor is more economical and faster than the Northern Corridor. In addition, it is 2,000 km shorter than the sea route, reducing the journey by one third, and has more favorable climatic conditions.
"Currently, Turkey is stepping up the construction of many important infrastructure projects such as the Third Bosphorus Bridge (Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge), the Marmara Strait (Istanbul Canal), the Canakkale Bridge, highways, as well as the railroad linking London and China. The Middle Corridor project, with its vision of reviving the ancient Silk Road, has a natural synergy with the BRI."
SABRI: "What will be the main functions of TWF's planned Beijing office in China?"
Sönmez: "TWF will focus on joint operations with Asia, and that's where China will be at the forefront. We plan to open our Beijing office this year and make it a hub to connect Turkey to China. At the same time, we welcome and support Chinese companies to set up offices in Istanbul covering the Asia-Europe region, and the Istanbul Financial Center will provide support and security for Chinese companies to settle there."
Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative (Source: middlecorridor.com)
"The Deepening Of China-Turkey Cooperation Is Conducive To Building A New Type Of International Relations"
SABRI: "We are an international youth organization, what advice do you have for our young people at a time of rapid global transformations? How do you see the world of tomorrow into which they will enter? Do you have some suggestions to better prepare for what lies ahead?"
Sönmez: "Turkey and China have a lot in common, with rich history and culture being the most important. Both countries have had strong connections through their history and in the new era both countries should establish new links through their youth.
"In an ever-changing world, young people should break free from the shackles of tradition and gain new experiences in diverse environments. In the future, young people from China will work and live in Turkey, and Turkish youth will have the opportunity to learn Chinese and work in China. As a key organization, TWF offers many possibilities. By establishing a Beijing office, we will have the opportunity to learn from our Chinese counterparts about new technology, culture and investment philosophies.
"I encourage young people who are considering upgrading their international work experience to choose Turkey. China is already a developed market, and I believe that work experience in emerging markets is more valuable than experience in just one developed market. I made the same choice in 2011. When most of my friends went to work in London, I chose Asia, which opened up more possibilities for my future growth.
"The deepening of China-Turkey cooperation is conducive to building a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation. Looking to the future, Turkey can use its geographical advantages to strengthen the Middle Corridor and the BRI
"In 2021, the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Turkey, and on the occasion of the Chinese New Year of the Ox, we hope that China and Turkey will join hands to promote the continuous and profound development of Sino-Turkish strategic cooperative relations for the betterment of the two peoples and the stability and prosperity of the world."
"The Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative, shortly named as 'The Middle Corridor,' which begins in Turkey and passes through the Caucasus region via Georgia, Azerbaijan, crosses the Caspian Sea, traverses Central Asia and reaches China, is one of the most important component of the efforts to revive the ancient Silk Road. It passes by rail and road respectively through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Caspian Sea, (crossing the Caspian transit corridor) and reaches China by following Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan route. On this route, ports of Baku/Alat (in Azerbaijan), Aktau/Kuryk (in Kazakhstan) and Turkmenbashi (in Turkmenistan) are the main points of multimodal transport on Caspian transit corridor. Moreover, the Middle Corridor gets attraction of the regional countries, especially the landlocked ones." See: Mfa.gov.tr/turkey_s-multilateral-transportation-policy.en.mfa
 Asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Interview/Turkish-sovereign-wealth-fund-courts-China-s-Belt-and-Road, August 12, 2020.
 Bit.ly/3snE0k7, February 22, 2021.