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A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China's Changing Maritime Geopolitics

Authors:
A Neo-Mahanian Reading
of Turkey and Chinas Changing
Maritime Geopolitics
Efe Can Gürcan s Assocate Dean of Research and Development for the Faculty of Economcs,
Admnstratve, and Socal Scences at İstnye Unversty. He s also Char of the Department of
Poltcal Scence and Publc Admnstraton and a faculty member n the Department of Interna-
tonal Relatons, İstnye Unversty. He serves as Drector of the Center for Belt and Road Studes
at Istnye Unversty and Research Assocate at the Unversty of Mantoba’s Geopoltcal Eco-
nomy Research Group. Gürcan completed hs undergraduate educaton n Internatonal Relat-
ons at Koç Unversty. He receved hs Master’s degree n Internatonal Studes from the Unversty
of Montréal and earned hs Ph.D. n Socology from Smon Fraser Unversty. He speaks Englsh,
French, Spansh, and Turksh. Hs publcatons nclude three books as well as more than 30 ar-
tcles and book chapters on nternatonal development, nternatonal conct, and nternatonal
nsttutons, wth a geographcal focus on Latn Amerca and the Mddle East. Hs latest book s
Multpolarzaton, South-South Cooperaton, and the Rse of Post-Hegemonc Governance.
E-mal: efe.gurcan@stnye.edu.tr
https://orcd.org/0000-0002-5415-3163
efe can gürcan
Asst. Prof,
Department of International Relations, İstinye University
Peer-Reviewed Article
24
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey
and China’s Changing Maritime
Geopolitics
It is dicult to overestimate the importance of
maritime geopolitics in the study of interna-
tional relations, even for the simple fact that the
oceans cover 71% of the earths surface. Acquir-
ing sea power and controlling inland waterways
for both economic and diplomatic supremacy
have always been of indispensable value to those
states seeking world domination in the history
of international relations. It would not be an un-
derstatement to argue that all historical periods
of global hegemony that have shaped the course
of world history such as Pax Romana, Pax Bri-
tannica, and Pax Americana were rooted in a so-
called “universal naval peace” (Reynolds, 1974).
e present epoch testies to a radical
calling into question of global sea hegemony
amidst the demise of Pax Americana and the
rise of “multipolarity” (Gürcan, 2019). On the
one hand, the United States of America (US) has
become a pole of instability in global politics by
abusing its leadership position and renouncing
its claim to be the provider of common prosper-
ity. is situation is reected with much clarity
in the self-declared “brain death” of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the ter-
mination of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), the dangerous erosion of
ABSTRACT
An eroding perception of maritime peace worldwide and radical questioning of global sea
hegemony have emerged as a rapidly growing trend in global politics amidst the demise of Pax
Americana and the rise of multipolarity. With US global hegemony in decline, China has developed
into a leading actor to reignite international cooperation based on the Belt and Road Initiative
(BRI). In this environment, there arises a strong need for a closer reading of the changing character
of maritime geopolitics within the context of BRI. To address this need, the present article aims to
oer a comparative study of recently escalating tensions in the South China Sea and the Eastern
Mediterranean. Drawing on a neo-Mahanian conception of maritime geopolitics, this article
seeks to answer the following questions: How are South China Sea and Eastern Mediterranean
geopolitics shaped by the multipolarization of world politics? What are the key dynamics leading
to these changes? How do such changes in one region condition those in another? In what respects
are Turkey and Chinas geostrategic imperatives aected in this situation? e 21st Century
Maritime Silk Road (MSR) represents the maritime route of BRI, whose starting point is located
in the South China Sea and whose nal destination is the Eastern Mediterranean, conceived of as
a strategic bridge between China and Europe. It follows that BRI’s maritime economic potential
primarily relies on South China Sea and Eastern Mediterranean security, i.e. both ends of MSR,
whose prospects are intertwined together. One could observe that both Turkey and China suer
from increasing US interventionism at rst hand and they have developed similar geostrategic
doctrines embodied in the Turkish “Blue Homeland” doctrine and the Chinese “Blue National
Soil” doctrine. China and Turkey’s shared geopolitical imperatives and geostrategic conformity
are to be better grasped by policy-makers for the future success of BRI.
Keywords: Eastern Mediterranean, geopolitics, geostrategy, sea power, South China Sea
25
the United Nations (UN) authority, the persis-
tent undermining of the World Health Organi-
zations (WHO) status, and global environmental
governance the continuing eects of the worst
economic crisis since the 1930s, and the spiral-
ing out of control of US military interventions
worldwide (Gürcan, 2019/2020; Gürcan & Kah-
raman, 2020).
On the other hand, one of the strongest re-
sponses to the crisis of hegemonic global govern-
ance has come from China, which launched the
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reignite inter-
national cooperation. ough oen designated
by the West as a China-owned infrastructure and
investment project, BRI seeks the collective lead-
ership and active participation of all countries in-
volved. At the heart of BRI’s logic lies the concept
of shared development, which represents values
centered on the principles of respect to diversity
and national sovereignty. BRI has now acquired
the status of world history’s largest and most
comprehensive initiative for development and
trade cooperation, with 152 countries having al-
ready signed up. In such an environment, there
is a need for a comparative reading of maritime
geopolitics in the context of BRI.
Considering the current state of US glob-
al hegemony in permanent crisis and Chinas
leading contributions to shared development,
this article addresses the need for a comparative
reading of the changing maritime geopolitics in
BRI’s context. e research focus is on recent-
The Belt and Road Initiative creates a global infrastructure network
that expands through railroads, ports and pipelines
Mapping the Belt and Road Initiative: This is where we stand, (Mercator Institute for China Studies- MERICS, 2018).
https://merics.org/en/analysis/mapping-belt-and-road-initiative-where-we-stand
Efe Can Gürcan - A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China’s Changing Maritime Geopolitics
26
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
ly intensifying tensions in the South China Sea
and the Eastern Mediterranean. In methodolog-
ical terms, the article uses incorporated com-
parison, which consists of “understand[ing] the
complexity of global phenomena by addressing
cross-case commonalities, mutual inuences,
and interdependencies in tandem with spatial or
temporal variations, historical specicities, and
internal tensions for a fuller understanding of a
global conguration at hand” (Gürcan, 2019: 6).
e main idea here is to reveal historical connec-
tions and mutual conditioning among the cases
under study (McMichael, 1990, 2000). In this
study, this historical and mutual relationality is
reected in the extent to which US intervention-
ism and increased multipolarity have combined
to transform Turkey and Chinas geostrategic
imperatives in tandem. e research questions
are the following: How are South China Sea and
Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics shaped by the
multipolarization of world politics? What are
the key dynamics leading to these changes? How
do such changes in one region condition those
in another? In what respects are Turkey and
Chinas geostrategic imperatives aected in this
situation? e 21st Century Maritime Silk Road
(MSR) represents the maritime route of BRI,
whose starting point is located in the South Chi-
na Sea, opening up to its rst stop in Hanoi, and
whose nal destination is the Eastern Mediterra-
nean, conceived of as a strategic bridge between
China and Europe. It follows that BRI’s maritime
economic potential primarily relies on South
China Sea and Eastern Mediterranean security,
i.e. both ends of MSR, whose prospects are inter-
twined together. Eastern Mediterranean security
is not only vital for China’s BRI but it also has the
potential to aect the global geopolitical balance
(Behrendt, 2019; Pencea, 2018; Mediterranean
Aairs, 2018). Keeping these questions in mind,
the present article explores in greater depth the
historical and mutual relationality of the South
China Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean from a
neo-Mahanian perspective.
Conceptual Framework
Oen designated as the intellectual father of the
American navy (Yoshihara & Holmes, 2008), Al-
fred ayer Mahans thought has preserved its
signicance in military thinking. In his magnum
opus, e Inuence of Sea Power Upon Histo-
ry: 1660–1783, Mahan (1999) cites sea power as
one of the chief factors determining the level of
national wealth and prosperity. In his view, sea
power hinges on overseas trade, a powerful navy
that ensures the security of trade activities, and
the presence of overseas colonies (Mahan, 1999;
Hattendorf & Jordand, 1989). Furthermore, the
attainment of these outcomes is conditional on a
set of six factors: geographical position, physical/
geographical conformation, territorial size, pop-
ulation size, national character, and the character
of the government (Mahan, 1999). e following
two sections will address these conditions based
on the cases of Turkey and China, while the re-
mainder of the present section will be devoted to
a conceptual exploration of the Mahanian list of
the “six fundamental elements of sea power”.
Geographical position can be explained by
reference to the cases of Britain and the US. To
the dierence of countries where land defense
exigencies suppress interest in the eld of na-
val defense (e.g. France and the Netherlands),
Mahan describes Britain and the US as insular
rather than continental powers who are shielded
by the sea from external attack, which in turn
27
enables greater focus on naval defense and ex-
pansion. In this respect, US maritime geopolitics
can be said to thrive on access not only to the At-
lantic, Pacic, and Arctic Oceans but also to the
Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea (Mahan,
1999; Stavridis, 2018).
In Mahan’s framework, sea power also re-
quires physical, or geographical conformation,
which can be maximized by the possession
of ample natural resources and mild climate.
Equally important in this regard are proximi-
ty to economic centers, logistical connectivity,
the possession of navigable inland waterways,
and the availability of well-protected natural
harbors and long coastlines. One could argue
that natural resource wealth can also potential-
ly increase with territorial size. From Mahan’s
(1999) perspective, the “territorial size” element
may oer additional potential advantages such
as increased defense capacity and economic dy-
namism, which can even be maximized through
greater “population size” (Mahan, 1999).
Finally, the real potential of these geo-
graphical/physical, territorial, and demograph-
ic advantages can only be realized if a country
aspiring to become a true sea power possesses
an enabling cultural foundation and political en-
vironment. In cultural terms, sea powers are to
thrive on a deeply ingrained love of money and
trading skills coupled with an inclination and
ability to build overseas posts. Moreover, Mahan
(1999) insists that these cultural characteristics
are also to be combined with persistent state pol-
icies that accord due importance to naval power
and maritime trade.
While Mahan’s lasting imprint on maritime
strategic thought cannot be easily exaggerated,
Julian Corbett’s (1999) ideas are oen valued as
a complementary element to a neo-Mahanian
framework. Interestingly enough, Corbett’s work
could not nd widespread popularity until the
1950s and 1960s, even though he was a contem-
porary of Mahan (Hattendorf & Jordand, 1989).
Corbett agreed with much of Mahans emphasis
on the importance of sea power, but his contri-
butions greatly helped to expand the universe
of maritime strategy by revealing that complete
sea dominance cannot be easily attained and, in
stead, successful maritime strategies stem from
sea control in the rst place. In ensuring sea
control, sea powers concentrate their eorts on
controlling the right to passage on the sea and
sea lines of communications for both commer-
cial and military purposes rather than simply
seeking the destruction of the enemy eet and
full conquest. As such, Corbett draws attention
to the crucial role of constabulary force and
maneuver warfare focused on littoral regions
and complementing heavy combat power with
frigates, corvettes, and patrol cra. In Corbett’s
view, a conict situation in which neither side
prevails may also be relatively advantageous for
a sea power given that the enemy can be denied
sea control in such situations. In this process,
moreover, economic power is essential. At the
end of the day, the enemy’s denial of sea control
would undermine its trade revenues and over-
all economic strength, which would eventually
lay the groundwork for the erosion of the ene-
my resistance and its military defeat (Corbett,
1999; Kraska, 2011; Kane, 2002; Hattendorf &
Jordand, 1989). In light of Corbett’s ideas, one
could observe that both the South China Sea and
Eastern Mediterranean conicts have brought to
the forefront the relevance of constabulary force
and maneuver warfare as well as that of sea con-
trol and containment strategies.
Efe Can Gürcan - A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China’s Changing Maritime Geopolitics
28
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
Geographical Position and
Conformation in the South China Sea
and the Eastern Mediterranean
It is possible to assess China and Turkey’s po-
tential of maritime power based on a Cor-
bett-inspired neo-Mahanian framework, as was
depicted in the previous section. In terms of
geographical position and conformation, both
countries hold the advantage of access to open
seas. For instance, Turkey has the longest coast-
lines (1577 km) in the Mediterranean Sea. Locat-
ed in the Mediterranean, Mersin and İskenderun
Ports are close to Turkey’s economic centers and
assume an important role in regional trade and
energy trac. is being said, the strategic im-
portance of these ports can only be fully appre-
ciated when taken in the larger context of East
Mediterranean geopolitics. Firstly, the Mediterra-
nean Sea represents a highly strategic intersection
point between Asia, Africa, and Europe, which
connects the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Adding
to this is the fact that the Mediterranean Sea pro-
vides the shortest route that connects the Far East
to Europe and the Atlantic. As such, one could ar-
gue that the command of the Mediterranean is of
extreme importance to control energy trac and
international migratory ows towards Europe
(TESSAM, 2008; Çomak & Şeker, 2019). About
70% of European energy imports are transport-
ed through the Mediterranean Sea. In this region,
the Eastern Mediterranean is strategically located
to control migratory ows and energy trac giv-
en its proximity to the Suez Canal.
In this respect, Cyprus Island assumes a
strategic role in controlling not only the ow of
international trade and energy trac from the
Caspian Basin, the Persian Gulf, and the Suez
Canal but also any future military operation to
be conducted in the entire region. For these rea-
sons, it is not surprising to know that the South
Cyprus government harbors the largest number
of military troops by surface area and the largest
number of intelligence personnel by population
size in the world. e South Cyprus government
has become one of the most important bases of
Britain and the US aiming to encircle Eurasian
powers such as China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey
(TESSAM, 2008; Çomak & Şeker, 2019). Several
joint drills by Israel, the US, France, Greece, and
South Cyprus such as Noble Dina, Nemesis, and
Eunomia are aimed at not only containing Turkey,
but also undermining China, Russia, and Iran.
Particularly, US authorities have ocially
asserted their support for Greek energy policies
at Turkey’s expense and framed Turkey’s Med-
iterranean demands as a “unilateral show of
force” (Berberakis, 2020). US interventionism
in the Mediterranean will likely take on an even
greater weight if the Eastern Mediterranean Se-
curity and Energy Partnership Act is passed by
the full Senate and the House of Representa-
tives thanks to bipartisan support. is act aims
to improve cooperation between the US, Isra-
el, Greece, and the South Cyprus government
Turkish seismic research vessel Oruç Reis will x-ray the
Mediterranean (Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy
and Natural Resources, 2020)
29
as well as removing the ban on arms sales to
the South Cyprus government, increasing US
military assistance, and limiting US military
cooperation with Turkey, if Turco-Russian rap-
prochement were to be further deepened (Lit-
sas, 2020). Certainly, this partnership will be
most detrimental to China’s regional strategic
interests in the longer term given that the Med-
iterranean is of vital importance to the contin-
uation and development of MSR.
Considering the strategic location of Cyprus
Island in the Mediterranean, the South Cyprus
government and Western military elements dom-
inating the island will also assume a key role in
limiting the Mediterranean access of Eurasian
powers such as China, Russia, and Iran. Inverse-
ly, a stronger Turkey and Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus hold the potential to facilitate
Eurasian access to the Mediterranean. However,
the West has been devoting special eorts to lock-
ing Turkey’s maritime zone to only a small area
around Antalya Province despite Turkey having
the longest coastlines in the Mediterranean Sea.
ese malicious eorts are symbolized in the so-
called “Seville Map, a European-made map that is
oen used as an ocial pretext by both the Greek
and the South Cyprus governments. Eventually,
the successful implementation of the Seville Map
would endanger Mediterranean stability along-
side MSRs prospects given Turkey’s dominant
geographical location in the Mediterranean Sea.
Furthermore, Turkey constitutes MSR’s strong-
est partner from a geostrategic point of view. To
the dierence of Turkey, which has increasingly
been adopting a more independent foreign-pol-
icy approach, pro-Western countries where Chi-
na holds BRI-related investments, such as Greece
and Israel (Litsas, 2020), are not likely to abandon
the Western alliance in the long term.
e East Mediterranean’s importance for
Turkey is comparable to that of the South Chi-
na Sea for China. e South China Sea is even
larger than the Caribbean Sea and is considered
one of the worlds largest semi-enclosed seas.
It is home to almost half of all global maritime
trade. Similarly, half of global liquied gas trac
and one-third of global crude oil trac passes
through the South China Sea (Huang & Billo,
2015; Stavridis, 2018). 80 to 90% of China’s oil
imports are transported via the Malacca Strait
and therefore pass through the South China Sea.
Japan and South Korea’s energy imports also
assume similar levels of dependency on South
China Sea trac. Besides its importance for en-
ergy trac, the South China Sea also possesses
ample natural resources. Estimates suggest that
this sea contains oil reserves of 17 billion tonnes
and natural gas reserves of 14 trillion m3. About
10% of global sh catches come from the South
China Sea. Besides these energy and trade-relat-
ed features, the South China Sea’s strategic im-
portance for China also stems from its proximity
to Chinese industrial centers and serves as a nat-
ural shield that protects China’s demographical-
ly dense areas (Fels & Vu, 2016; Turcsányi, 2018;
Bateman & Emmers, 2008; Hashmi, 2016). Fi-
A stronger Turkey and Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus hold
the potential to facilitate Eurasian
access to the Mediterranean.
However, the West has been
devoting special efforts to locking
Turkey’s maritime zone to only a
small area around Antalya Province
despite Turkey having the longest
coastlines in the Mediterranean Sea.
Efe Can Gürcan - A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China’s Changing Maritime Geopolitics
30
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
nally, BRI’s maritime route starts from the city of
Fuzhou, facing the Strait of Taiwan and opening
up to the South China Sea, before leaving China
for the Malacca Strait (Le, Tran & Duc, 2019).
China and Turkey’s Territorial Size,
Demographic Structure, and Maritime
Policies Under the Threat of US
Interventionism
As was discussed in the previous section, Turkey
and China’s geographical location and confor-
mation oer potential advantages for improving
maritime cooperation along MSR. However, this
potential cannot be fully realized until certain
conditions have been met. From a neo-Mahanian
perspective, sea power also derives from demo-
graphic, territorial, and political-cultural factors
conducive to economic dynamism and mari-
time expansion. In the case of Turkey, the Turk-
ish economy has been going through a period of
marked decline since 2009, which would in turn
constrain its maritime potential. Meanwhile, Tur-
key also inspires ample optimism about its mari-
time potential as one of the largest and most dy-
namic Middle Eastern economies. Furthermore,
Turkey ranks third in the list of the largest Middle
Eastern countries by surface area and those with
the highest performance in human capital and
innovation aer Israel and the United Arab Emir-
ates (World Bank, 2020: 27; Global Innovation
Index, 2020: 16). Turkey’s name is also mentioned
among the worlds top 10 ship-building countries
including China, South Korea, and Japan, even
though Turkey’s position is fast regressing due to a
combination of several factors including a general
lack of public funding and excessive domination
of the private sector in such a strategic industry as
the ship-building industry (OECD, 2011). ese
factors speak to Turkey’s maritime potential as a
country surrounded by sea on three sides, regard-
The map of Blue Homeland is prepared by resigned RADM Cihat Yaycı. This map is shared here by the courtesy of Mr. Yaycı.
Turkey
BLUE HOMELAND
462,000 km2
31
less of its recently arising economic challenges.
Certainly, Turkey cannot match Chinas poten-
tial as the world’s largest country by population
size, fourth-largest country by surface area, and
second-largest economy. ough China is on par
with Turkey when it comes to its performance in
human capital, it ranks among the worlds top 15
countries in the eld of innovation. Chinas mar-
itime potential can also be assessed based on the
fact that it possesses the world’s largest navy and
third-largest diaspora (World Bank, 2020: 27;
Global Innovation Index, 2020: 16; Lye, 2020).
To the dierence of the United States and
Britain, China and Turkey do not constitute
insular powers, and their continental charac-
teristics constrain their maritime potential. As
was cautioned by Mahan himself, a continen-
tal connection comes with potential border se-
curity problems that lead non-insular power
to divert their full attention from naval devel-
opment (Mahan, 1999; Kane, 2002). In these
conditions, China and Turkey’s maritime ef-
forts require even greater care and attention to
non-geographical factors. For these countries to
put their advantage of access to open seas into
action in the fullest sense, they require greater
cooperation faced with US interventionism. In
this regard, the acceleration of Sino-Turkish co-
operation in the context of BRI inspires much
optimism. Cheng Enfu and Li Jing (2020) re-
mark that around 1,000 Chinese rms currently
operate in Turkey and these rms have acceler-
ated their economic activities thanks to the suc-
cessful implementation of BRI. Moreover, they
stress the importance of an agreement signed
by Turkey and China during the 2017 BRI Fo-
rum, which is aimed at facilitating bilateral co-
operation on international passenger and cargo
transport (Cheng & Li, 2020). Worthy of note
here is that Cheng and Lis (2020) own contri-
butions to the debate reect a favorable Chinese
perspective into the complementarity of Eastern
Mediterranean and South China Sea security as
well as the potential impact of BRI in resolving
maritime conicts in these regions.
e deepening and durability of such em-
powering arrangements are contingent on the
development of a strong political-cultural base,
especially for Turkey. Certainly, China has in-
herited a strong maritime tradition since ancient
times. In imperial times, moreover, China was
able to pursue strong maritime policies under
the rule of powerful emperors since the Han dy-
nasty era (Kane, 2002). is being said, China’s
current successful eorts at improving its sea
power also owes to external factors, which nd
their sharpest expression in rising US interven-
tionism in Asia.
With Barack Obamas ascension to the pres-
idency in 2009, the focus of US interventionism
has shied from the Middle East to Asia and
the South China Sea within the framework of
the “Pivot to Asia” strategy. is strategy was
predicated on the idea of initiating a military
buildup to contain China while isolating it from
the region through a US-led free trade initiative
In these conditions, China and
Turkey’s maritime efforts require
even greater care and attention to
non-geographical factors. For these
countries to put their advantage
of access to open seas into action
in the fullest sense, they require
greater cooperation faced with US
interventionism.
Efe Can Gürcan - A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China’s Changing Maritime Geopolitics
32
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
called Trans-Pacic Partnership (TPP). At this
point, it is important to emphasize that rising
US interventionism also triggered the accelera-
tion of tensions as part of the South China Sea
conict involving China, the Philippines, Viet-
nam, Indonesia, and Brunei. In the meantime,
Obama declared himself as the rst “Pacic
President” and made frequent visits to East Asia.
In her speech at the 2010 Association of South-
east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum,
Hillary Clinton, who was U.S. secretary of state
at the time, asserted that South China sea stabil-
ity is part of US national interests. In the Obama
era, moreover, numerous ocial foreign policy
documents revealed US interventionist inten-
tions (Litsas, 2020; Wu, 2013; Fels & Vu, 2016;
Turcsányi, 2018). In reaction to rising US inter-
ventionism, China thus decided to accelerate its
eorts at expanding its naval power and building
articial islands in the South China sea in 2013
for defensive purposes. China’s defensive reac-
tion to US intentions of forced containment and
isolation reected a constant desire for peace-
ful cooperation on the economic front, which
nds its strongest expression in the implemen-
tation of BRI. One could therefore deduce that
Chinas current position consists of improving
South China Sea security to advance its agenda
of improving peaceful economic cooperation in
response to rising US aggression.
From a neo-Mahanian perspective, the
common threat of US aggression shared by Chi-
na and Turkey has resulted in the development
of similar geostrategic doctrines. Faced with
rising US interventionism under the Obama
administration, China adopted the doctrine of
Nine-Dash Line (Map: BRIQ)
33
The “Blue Homeland” doctrine was
put into effect following a pro-US
failed coup attempt on July 15,
2016, as a result of which Turkey
decided to delink from the Greater
Middle East Project and adopt a
more independent foreign policy
approach.
the “national blue soil” (蓝色国土 lanse guotu),
which is represented by the “nine-dash line” map
on China’s maritime zone in the South China sea
(Richardson, 2015). is doctrine claims Para-
cel, Spratly, and Pratas Islands as well as Mac-
cleseld Bank and Scarborough Shoal as part of
Chinas homeland. e “national blue soil” found
initial mention in the 2010 Ocean Development
Report prepared by the State Oceanic Admin-
istration, which also included China’s ocial
statement on the development of a carrier eet
(Cheng, 2013; Fels & Vu, 2016; Lanteigne, 2016).
To the dierence of China, Turkey has in-
herited a weak maritime legacy. As Cem Gürden-
iz, a retired Turkish admiral, argues, both the
Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey
were shut o from maritime civilization due to
domestic policy failures and external pressures,
which explains the current state of Turkey’s mar-
itime power (Gürdeniz, 2020). Worthy of note
in this regard is that Turkey’s maritime trade
eet globally regressed from the 18th to the 22nd
rank in the period 2000-2012 (Kanat, 2016).
is being said, Turkey’s “Blue Homeland” doc-
trine presents a new homeland imaginary whose
reach extends to its inland waters, continental
shelves, and exclusive economic zones.
e “Blue Homeland” doctrine was put into
eect following a pro-US failed coup attempt on
July 15, 2016, as a result of which Turkey decided
to delink from the Greater Middle East Project
and adopt a more independent foreign policy
approach. In the pre-coup era, pro-US elements
had inltrated into the Turkish bureaucratic and
political apparatus and used their inuence to
launch “witch-hunt” trials based on fabricated
evidence such as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer,
which led to the imprisonment of high-ranking
military ocials, politicians, and intellectuals
with anti-imperialist and anti-US leanings. ese
trials also helped to paralyze the Turkish military
and the navy command structure, which was the
key target of the 2010 Sledgehammer operation.
Interestingly enough, the timing of this trial tar-
geting the Turkish navy coincided with the dis-
covery of natural gas resources in the Eastern
Mediterranean before the Syrian conict in 2011
(Gürcan, 2019). However, Turkey’s navy took a
great leap forward following the adoption of the
“Blue Homeland” doctrine, which led to a mas-
sive mobilization campaign for national warship
and submarine construction. Such drills as Blue
Homeland and Determination demonstrated
the increasing deterrent potential of the Turkish
navy in the period 2016-2020. is adds to the
signing of a Turkish-Libyan maritime boundary
deal in 2019, which dealt a heavy blow to West-
ern interventionism symbolized by the Seville
Map. It is important to know that this agreement
determines the southwestern end of the Blue
Homeland (İeri & Bartan, 2019; Akfırat, 2019;
Aydınlık, 2019). In the nal analysis, one could
argue that Turkey’s pro-Western foreign policy
in the pre-2016 era – which supported the An-
nan plan for the de-militarization of the Turkish
side of Cyprus Island and land concessions – has
Efe Can Gürcan - A Neo-Mahanian Reading of Turkey and China’s Changing Maritime Geopolitics
34
BRIq Volume 2 Issue 1 Winter 2020-2021
le its place to a more responsible foreign-policy
attitude that reclaims North Cyprus sovereignty
and the Turkish maritime zones.
Conclusion
Initiated at Chinas initiative in 2013, BRI has
emerged as a strong force amidst the crisis of
US-led hegemonic governance and the deepening
of global economic and military chaos. Howev-
er, BRIs real potential cannot be realized without
maritime security along MSR. Turkey and China
appear as key actors in ensuring maritime securi-
ty, whose mutual ties are increasingly being con-
solidated in the context of rising multipolarity.
e present article has examined the consolida-
tion of these objective ties from a neo-Mahanian
perspective.  is analysis reveals that maritime
security in the South China Sea –as MSR’s start-
ing point– and in the East Mediterranean –as
MSRs  nal destination until it reaches Europe–
are mutually conditioned and contingent on each
other for the development and prospects of BRI.
Both countries constitute the key players in their
respective maritime regions connected through
BRI and therefore have a vested interest in pro-
viding mutual support for enhancing maritime
security. Certainly, Turkey assumes a critical role
as part of MSR given its status as a Mediterranean
country that has the longest coastlines and pos-
sesses strong demographic and economic dyna-
mism in its vast territory. In the meantime, both
Turkey and China su er from increasing US in-
terventionism at  rst hand. In the Mediterranean
case, US interventionism is further consolidated
through a stronger pro-Western alliance that in-
cludes Israel, France, Greece and the South Cy-
prus government.  is is an important risk factor
that threatens to contain the peaceful develop-
ment of China in the longer term. Under these
conditions, one could observe that China and
Turkey have developed similar geostrategic doc-
trines embodied in the Turkish “Blue Homeland”
doctrine and the Chinese “Blue National Soil
doctrine. China and Turkey’s shared geopolitical
imperatives and geostrategic conformity are to
be better grasped by policy-makers for the future
success of BRI.
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