Regional Operations Center: Turkey Realizes Taiwan's Unfufilled Dream
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
November 11, 2013
Summary: Consider the "regional transit center" dream. If today Taiwan is reduced to asking itself, "If Turkey can, why can't Taiwan?" how sad is that? Taiwan's future cannot wait. Can the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan reach a consensus? Whether or not Taiwan can, depends upon our willingness to roll up our sleeves and get down to work. It depends upon our willingness to make up for time lost to partisan backbiting. We can only pray we still have a chance to catch up.
Full text below:
For many people on Taiwan, Turkey is a distant and unknown land. In late October, an undersea railroad tunnel connected Europe with Asia, and became the focus of international attention. The tunnel runs underneat the Bosphorus Strait. The plan for the tunnel was devised by Sultan Abdul Medjid of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-nineteenth century. Today it has finally been realized. The Economist magazine called it "The Sultan's Dream," and published a report on this 150 year old dream come true.
The undersea railroad tunnel is complete. But it will still be some time before vehicular traffic can begin. Some say that Turkey’s current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is too hubristic. A number of major construction projects were begun during his term. They include airports, bridges, and large-scale urban development projects. Criticisms vary. But his ambition is obvious. These construction projects require tens of billions of dollars in public funds. Turkey cannot afford them. But Erdogan is undeterred. For example, this tunnel is important to investors in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the VIPs who attended the opening of the tunnel.
Turkey's political and economic situation has had its ups and downs. But it remains a pioneer of modernization in the Western Asian region. Prime Minister Erdogan was once Mayor of Istanbul. He had a very liberal image. But in recent years, he has been accused of authoritarian tendencies. More importantly, Turkey, like many newly industrialized countries, has grand economic ambitions. It is located at the crossroads of the Eurasian continent. It has a unique opportunity to become a tourism and transportation hub. A visionary leader will not squander this advantage. Over the past decade, its flagship Turkish Airlines was privatized and reborn. It became an international model of successful business transformation and attracted considerable attention.
TV audiences on Taiwan have probably seen the TV ad featuring American NBA star Kobe Bryant and Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi of Barcelona, playing ball in an airline cabin. But when the credits roll and read, "The best fly with Europe's best airline -- Turkish Airlines," many people are incredulous. They can't believe such a modern and cosmopolitan TV ad was run by Turkish Airlines. Time magazine said this joint effort by two sports superstars took place in one of the most unlikely places. Turkish Airlines was willing to spend big bucks for international visibility. This ad, when uploaded to YouTube, received over 70 million hits. The publicity generated was tremendous.
Turkish Airlines has made many innovative moves. More importantly, according to professional analysts, it has made full use of its geographical advantages. It has vigorously established new destinations, in both mature European markets and emerging Asia and African markets. Many cities across three continents are only four hours away from Istanbul. Turkish Airlines has seized upon its geographical advantage. Once it decided to realize its ambition, it immediately displayed the power of a newly awakened lion.
Turkish Airlines has become a living, breathing example of national brand building. It has also become a "regional transit center." Does this not ring a bell on Taiwan? Twenty years ago, we on Taiwan began promoting a "regional operations center." Everyone was drawing up blueprints for "Taiwan as an Asian hub." According to international management consultants, only two cities were less than four hours' away from most cities in East Asia -- Taipei and Manila. Travel to and from these two cities qualified as "day trips." This is why Manila became a world-renowned center for Federal Express next day service in Asia.
The "East Asian Operations Center" dream eluded Taiwan. Only recently has Taipei's Songshan Airport undergone modernization. This enabled Ma Ying-jeou to revive the "Northeast Asian Golden Circle" dream. But many opportunities for development are no longer in Taiwan's hands. In 2009 FedEx transferred its East Asian hub in Subic Bay to the new 1.5 billion dollar Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou. This opportunity could have been ours. Looking back on two decades of rise and fall in our regional status, how can we not feel pangs of regret?
Turkey's per capita GDP is currently just over 10,000 USD, exactly half of that on Taiwan. Turkey has just completed its undersea tunnel. Turkish Airlines has built an international brand. Clearly Turkey is committed to becoming a "West Asian transit center." People on Taiwan used to ask, "If the US can, if Japan can, why can't Taiwan?" They once had the ambition of those in developed countries. Later, this became, "If Hong Kong can, if Singapore can, why can't Taiwan?" During high-tech industrial restructuring this became, "If South Korea can, why can't Taiwan?" Now consider the "regional transit center" dream. If today Taiwan is reduced to asking itself, "If Turkey can, why can't Taiwan?" how sad is that?
Taiwan's future cannot wait. Can the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan reach a consensus? Whether or not Taiwan can, depends upon our willingness to roll up our sleeves and get down to work. It depends upon our willingness to make up for time lost to partisan backbiting. We can only pray we still have a chance to catch up.
2013.11.11 02:57 am