The G20 Summit in Antalya: Economics and Diplomacy
November 13, 2015
On November 15–16, Turkey will be hosting leaders from around the globe for the G20 Summit at Antalya in the culmination of its G20 presidency, which it took over from Australia on December 1, 2014. The summit will be confirming Turkey’s higher profile in international relations while providing the ideal opportunity for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to once again claim, especially to the domestic audience, that this is the product of their activist foreign policy.
Erdogan will be directing the summit proceedings from his seat between Chinese president Xi Jinping, whose country will take over the G20 presidency from Turkey, and U.S. president Barack Obama. The importance of the event for him—and the central role he will play instead of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who had attended the Brisbane Summit in 2014—was further underlined by a special visit he made to Antalya three days before the summit to personally oversee the preparations. After his inspection, Erdogan made a point of emphasizing the fact that he has been participating in the G20 meetings since 2008.
In a speech to local elected officials at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on November 4, Erdogan boasted that “Turkey’s economic growth easily outranks many countries” before reflecting on the upcoming summit. “We will host the G20 Summit in Antalya. Most prominent countries of the world will come here. Countries which form 85 percent of the global economy will be meeting here under our presidency. This brother of yours will preside over the summit… God willing we will publish a post-summit communique and issue the Antalya Declaration to the world. This is all very important for our country.”
Erdogan then pointedly advised “those who wanted to deepen the political uncertainty in Turkey after June 7 along with the regional issues to review their calculations.” In this context, it is clear that he will be using the world spotlight on the Antalya Summit to draw attention to the AKP’s remarkable electoral recovery from its June reversal, which allowed it to regain its parliamentary majority on November 1 and to present to the outside world the image of a Turkey that has returned to stability under his leadership.
However, it is important to note that the summit is taking place against a background of acute security concerns following the October 10 suicide bomb attack in Ankara by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which killed over 100 people, and the resumption of the long-running conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). These were underlined by the recent decision of the U.S. Defense Department to extend its travel ban “to or within Turkey” for its personnel until November 20, as well as the unusual secrecy surrounding Obama’s accommodation arrangements in Antalya.
The G20 is generally recognized as the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and its 2015 objectives under Turkey’s presidency were announced as “strengthening the global recovery and lifting potential, enhancing resilience and buttressing sustainability.” Ambassador Ayse Sinirlioglu, Turkey’s G20 Sherpa, and other officials, working closely with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) as the B20 (Business 20) and the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) as the T20 (Think Tank 20) presidents, have prepared an agenda focusing on the designated Turkish priorities of “inclusiveness, investment and implementation.” Looking ahead to the summit on November 9, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin noted that “development, trade, competition, taxes and IMF reform would also be reviewed in the context of economic and environmental issues.” At a broader level, Turkey clearly intends to also use the meeting to pursue its advocacy of “a new path for development and growth” that would be “fairer to the have nots of the world.”
Delivering on high expectations relating to specific economic goals has been a difficult challenge for every G20 presidency. Turkey’s year has been hampered not only by global economic upheavals but also major domestic distractions, including the absence from the preparations for a considerable period of the former deputy prime minister for the economy Ali Babacan, who has long been the face of the Turkish economy. Erdogan implicitly acknowledged earlier difficulties during his visit to Antalya by saying “the result of the November 1 election completely removed political uncertainty in Turkey and gave us the opportunity to take stronger steps on regional issues.”
Erdogan will be seeking to make the most of his prolonged direct contacts with his guests to draw attention to political issues important to Turkey, in particular Syria and the related problems of refugees and terrorism, which he has repeatedly identified as products of the failure of the international community to act against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In the official pre-summit publication, Erdogan stressed that the Antalya Summit would “address both the refugee crisis and the issue of terrorism which threaten global peace and stability.” These goals were reaffirmed by Kalin who argued that “global economic issues and global political issues are inter-twined” and “cannot be considered separately from each other.” To underline his claim, Kalin recalled that “current political issues had been discussed at every G20 Summit” and pointed to the examples of Syria at Saint Petersburg during Russia’s G20 presidency and Ukraine at Brisbane when Australia had the presidency.
Kalin announced that “by a joint decision of the members of G20, the deepening refugee crisis and global terrorism would be taken up in a comprehensive manner at the November 15 leaders’ working dinner”—a first in the history of the G20 where the dinners have previously focused on economics—as well as at bilateral meetings that would be held during the summit “to the extent permitted by the schedule.” He said that the sherpas were working on a “post-summit communique” that would reflect these subjects on the agenda and that President Erdogan would speak at a press conference after the summit to “evaluate the process.”
While acknowledging that “the economy is the G-20’s raison d’être,” Erdogan also argued on November 10 that it was “now impossible to consider the economy separately from politics, social developments and most importantly security…and the inclusion of the issues of Iraq and Syria in the G20 agenda was not against the primary objectives of the platform.” He continued by saying “If we sit down, speak and disperse, we will get no results”; however, “the strength of the G20 rested in the ability of the member states to implement their decisions.” Erdogan then claimed that “the Antalya summit would be a meeting where important decisions would be taken.”
It is clear that Erdogan’s hopes are tied to a very great extent to his interaction with Obama at the summit. The U.S. president has not been to Turkey since his April 2009 visit soon after taking office, which had laid the groundwork for years of close cooperation. His bilateral meeting with his Turkish counterpart on November 15 will be his first face-to-face encounter since the NATO Summit in September 2014. Although the two leaders have spoken to each other on the phone during the intervening period, serious differences have emerged between them, especially with respect to the ongoing Syrian crisis.
Having firmly adopted a policy centered on the ouster of the Assad regime and shown a willingness to bear the considerable burdens associated with this decision—such as the social and financial costs of hosting over 2 million Syrian refugees, along with criticism relating to its inability to stem their flow into the European Union and the passage of radical fighters into the Syrian war zone—Turkey feels increasingly aggrieved by the continued reluctance of the United States to take meaningful action against Assad. The sense of disappointment felt by Erdogan on this issue has recently been heightened by deepening U.S. engagement with the Syrian Kurds, who have links to the PKK, as part of its new focus on the war against ISIS.
Erdogan stated on November 10 that his phone conversation with Obama earlier that day had focused on “collective action against terror organizations, in particular ISIS, which threaten Turkey” and the related issue of “the use of Incirlik Air Base by coalition forces.” Revealing that a buffer zone in northern Syria, which Turkey had long been advocating, was “no longer being considered,” Erdogan said that “allied countries had started moving towards the idea of terror free zone and we are seeing positive developments on a no-fly zone and a ground operation.” As his reference to Incirlik confirms, the July agreement between the two countries, which has permitted U.S. aircraft to strike ISIS targets from Turkish territory, provides Erdogan with leverage in his discussions with Obama. However, it remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient to eradicate their differences to permit the kind and level of cooperation Turkey is seeking.
There are even greater questions relating to Erdogan’s ability to dissuade Russian president Vladimir Putin in their bilateral meeting from his current course of providing armed support to Assad against all of his enemies without differentiation. Although the relationship with Turkey is important to Russia, it is noteworthy that Putin decided to upgrade his involvement in Syria only a week after he met Erdogan in Moscow on September 23. In contrast, Erdogan’s meeting with EU leaders in Brussels on October 5 and German chancellor Angela Merkel’s subsequent visit to Istanbul two weeks later to discuss closer cooperation on the growing problem of refugees suggests a higher possibility of movement with the European leaders on this issue. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that such progress as may be made in Antalya on refugees will be adequate to deal with the seemingly overwhelming nature of the challenge.
Bulent Aliriza is a senior associate and director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
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