There are two countries that more than others show how the Western world order is undergoing a profound change. Japan and Turkey occupy two distinct and diverse geographical areas, yet they share many of the same strategic choices about their future. Their geopolitical trajectory is increasingly drifting away from Washington and moving closer to China, Russia, India and Iran.
Both Japan and Turkey are two important states in the US’s strategy for controlling the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Both countries have economies that are competitive in comparison to their neighbors, and both often conveniently find themselves allied to countries within Washington’s orbit. Japan has a good relationship with South Korea, and Turkey (until a few years ago) had a privileged relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Keeping in mind that the US aims to prolong and consolidate its regional dominance, Washington has always tried to have excellent relations with these two countries as a way of ensuring its constant presence in regional affairs.
Trump’s victory, the decline of the unipolar world order, and a series of sensible strategic choices by Iran, Russia and China, have served to usher in a process of transformation in these two regions. The manner in which this transformation is occurring differs significantly. In the Middle East, the forces supporting Damascus are ending the conflict and moving Turkey away from the aggressor camp.
Ankara has chosen to keep one foot in each camp, and even though Moscow is perfectly aware of this, it is still better than Turkey being one step away from declaring war with Russia. In the same way, the failed coup in Turkey, which Ankara attributes to Gulen and the CIA (mistakenly, in my view, about which I wrote at the time), has had as an immediate effect of moving Tehran and Ankara closer together, in spite of their differences over the situation in Syria and Iraq. Other factors that have served to bring Turkey closer to the Sino-Russo-Iranian axis concern the rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council, with the commercial and industrial blockade against Qatar, an ally of Turkey, conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and enjoying Trump’s blessing.
This change is already happening in the Middle East, with Turkey, Iran and Russia in Astana trying to pacify Syria without the involvement of the United States. It would represent a major loss of US influence in the region were Tokyo to begin an important trade cooperation with ASEAN, an energetic one with Russia, and participate in an infrastructure project like the BRI with Beijing.
Moscow, Beijing and Teheran will have to offer to Japan and Turkey peace, development and mutual gain in order to accelerate the replacement of the United States as a central player in the international relations of these two countries. It will not be easy, given the nature of Abe and Erdogan, but Xi Jinping and Putin have shown themselves to be masters of cleverly combining the commercial, economic, military and diplomatic skills of China, Russia and Iran.