New Silk Road: One Belt, One Road

Chinese President, Mr. Xi Jinping, made a four day official visit to the UK last week. This was the first visit since 2005 and the UK was definitely well prepared to ensure that the Chinese President left the UK with a good impression and, more importantly, that he left with many infrastructure and trade projects signed.

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As we all well know, China is becoming more powerful and China has a lot of ambitions. One of the most important is its ambition to revitalize the Silk Road under the One Belt, One Road project.

The Silk Road is an ancient route facilitating trade and cultural exchange from east to west. The Great Wall of China was built to protect this route—in a way, to protect the continuation of trade between the east and the west. The development of this route enabled China, Persia, India and many countries in the past to benefit from cultural and economic development.

The length of the route is 6,000 km. The name Silk Road comes from the famous Chinese silk, which was a major attraction in building this route. Nowadays, thanks to the development of technology and fast transportation options, this route can be utilized more efficiently.

Following the global financial crisis in 2008, we are still not out of the woods. More importantly, we are losing our patience and our hopes for the future. When under 25 unemployment hits 50% in some developed countries, that is not only telling us about a single problem. It is signalling a much bigger problem: a lost generation.

The New Silk Road is being worked on in such an environment, and it excites everyone as it did in the past. And obviously everybody wants to get their share.

In the EU, the UK is lagging behind Germany with its trade volume with China. Obviously, Germany sells its cars and manufactured goods whereas the UK is not very competitive, actually not producing many exportation goods at all.

However, the UK is the leading country in the service sector in the EU. That’s where the internationalization of RMB could play an important role, as London can be the main clearing centre for renminbi.

In addition, the UK is where ideas of the future are turning into reality. It is the country where you can freely discuss with intellectuals and implement your ideas. Most importantly, the UK has a global talent pool which may only be compared with the USA.

Of course, it is not only Germany and the UK that are competing for a share in this big cake. Japanese president, Mr. Abe, has been travelling in Central Asia this week to secure better relationships with Central Asian countries. Given that Central Asia is the main connecting point, it is the main artery for the New Silk Road, pumping blood into its heart.

In my opinion, this visit is too late for Japan. Chinese companies, with the support of the Chinese Exim Bank, have been working on this region for many years now.

The power shift has already begun. The UK decided to sign for the foundation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, where many hesitant countries followed the UK. This should be a warning bell for the US.

I think we have to give credit to Cameron’s chancellor, George Osborne, for this courageous move.

The UK media criticized David Cameron for not discussing in detail China’s human rights track record and its steel pricing policy. On top of that, it was unfortunate timing that the UK steel industry announced job cuts during the visit of the Chinese president to the UK.

I believe David Cameron is following the right strategy with China.

How would it be possible to cooperate with someone on social issues without establishing the right relationship?

History might be bloody between the UK and China, but the future definitely looks bright.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Financial Times, Thank you!

Financial Times published my letter on October, 30th regarding recent developments in Turkey.

Thank you for featuring me!
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Link for the letter: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/5b441c12-7e54-11e5-a1fe-567b37f80b64.html

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EU and Turkey: A Sour Love Story

The migrant crisis has been ongoing without a proper solution for some time now, and this week Chancellor Merkel visited Istanbul to cooperate with Turkey to address the issue.

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One may ask: “How come Turkey became an important source for a solution?”

I am trying to find these answers in my article this week. Or simply: “Is Turkey really an important variable in the solution equation?”

I personally respect Chancellor Merkel, as every single leader in the biggest EU economies has changed since the global financial crisis, except Angela Merkel.

For instance, Gordon Brown was replaced by David Cameron in the UK, Nicolas Sarkozy by Francois Hollande in France, Jose Zapatero by Mariano Rajoy in Spain, Silvio Berlusconi by Mario Monti and then Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi in Italy.

There is no doubt that Chancellor Merkel is a strong leader. Even though I do not like her treatment of and attitude towards Greece in the last couple of years, I do believe that she has done a magnificent job in keeping Germany growing and increasing German influence in these very difficult times.

My French readers and friends may dislike this statement, but she is the sole de facto EU president today.

Unfortunately, relations between the EU and Turkey have been sour from the beginning.

Turkey’s application for EU membership dates back to 1987 and accession talks began only in 2005. Only one chapter out of 35 is currently closed, and many member states are opposed to opening new chapters. In other words, there is no accession progression at all right now.

Chancellor Merkel came up with ‘great’ incentives for Turkey to help the EU with the migrant crisis in her visit to Turkey. I will term these incentives something like “bribes” for Turkey:

  • Visa liberalisations for Turkish citizens
  • Revitalisation of talks between the EU and Turkey
  • Three billion euros in aid

In exchange, the EU demands that Turkey issues work permits for Syrian refugees so that they can be included in the Turkish work force and that it cooperates fully with Frontex to make sure the refugees are not trespassing to EU borders.

Turkish citizens have waited for a long time to be able to travel freely within the EU and Turkish citizens are not really interested any more in revitalising talks with the EU. The EU has lost its ground among the Turkish population with its insincere politics over decades. In addition, even its member states are questioning its survival probability over the next ten years, and, more importantly, its functionality.

Chancellor Merkel is taking a calculated risk by granting some minor concessions to Turkey and this approach proves that the EU is not after a long term solution.

The EU wants Turkey to create a permanent living space for most of the Syrian refugees in a single country rather than sharing this burden. In return, the EU grants Turkey small and possibly temporary concessions.

Is this just another insincere EU policy towards Turkey? Indeed, it is!

Has the EU analysed the probable consequences in terms of unemployability, further economic and political instability, crime rate, etc. on Turkey after accepting 2.5 million refugees? Would granting visa liberalisation, one-off aid of three billion euros and opening up some chapters justify any possible long term consequences on Turkish politics and economics?

That’s where the problem begins. I would like to share a paragraph from my article, “Would you like to be in the same boat?” published in August about how I would like to see Europe.

“Europe is the birthplace of the Renaissance: it brought humanism, art, development in science and policy, reform in education and self-awareness. I would expect the same Europe to bring intelligence, know-how, education, sanitation, water, healthcare and other basic human needs to these countries. Instead, politicians are proudly talking of extra fencing, dogs and police officers. Unfortunately, these measures were not really helpful and I’m afraid that they will not be helpful going forward either.”

Unfortunately Europe’s great ideology, its vision of the desired unity, has been non-existent for some years now. Of course, Turkey will grant some work permits and will help these migrants.

But it is not just the duty of Turkey. It is the duty of humanity.

Granting work permits to over 2.5 million people in a single country is not a solution. The EU wants to sweep the problem under the rug and very likely, as Turkey is a leading hand-made rug producer, Turkey has been chosen to replace the duty of the rug here!

Another insincerity from Europe has been the delay in the publication of a European Union report on Turkey until after the November election. This report is about Turkey’s human rights and free speech.

The European Union has been losing its influence for some time now and the UK is preparing for a referendum on whether or not to stay in the union.

I personally would like to see the EU stronger, more sincere and, more importantly, a true representative of its ancestors, where the Renaissance attributes of humanism, art, and development in science and policy are manifested.

I hope Turkey rejects these unnecessary and insincere proposals, not to secure a better deal, but to get some much wanted respect in the world arena, along with a fair solution to the whole Syrian migrant population.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter:@sukru_haskan

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Handy Guide For Istanbul

After publishing “Handy Guide for Singapore” two weeks ago, I have been asked by many followers to publish an article on my native land, Istanbul.

Thanks to my wife, Dilek Haskan, we managed to bring out our wealth of experience in Istanbul.

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SIGHTSEEING/NEIGHBOURHOODS

Historical peninsula: This neighbourhood should be your first stop in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, The Basilica Cistern and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts are the must-see sites.

For shopping and the ultimate eye indulgence, sample various spices from around the world in Spice Market and visit Grand Bazaar for a shopping experience unique to Turkey.

  • Grand Bazaar/Historical Peninsula Shopping:

Iznik Art and Iznik Works for Iznik pottery and tiles

Armaggan for jewellery, objects d’art and homeware. They also have a boutique hotel located in a ‘yali’ on Bosphorus.

Dhoku for great carpets – they even sell to my wife’s favourite stores Anthropologie and ABC Home in the US.

Taksim: Historical street with lots of cafes and restaurants. Visit Galata Tower here. You should also visit Serdar-i Ekrem Street for local designer stores.

Besiktas/Ortakoy/Bebek: You can take a boat from Besiktas and have a tour on Bosphorus, enjoy great views of both European and Anatolian side.

While you’re here, stock Turkish delights at Lokum Istanbul.

Nisantasi: Hip district for shopping, in-demand restaurants and cafes

EATING OUT

Traditional restaurants:

  • Mikla in Taksim district for modern Ottoman style cuisine
  • Hamdi in historical peninsula for Turkish meat dishes; you should try pistachio kebab here
  • Hunkar in Nisantasi
  • Pandeli Restaurant in Spice Market is dated back to 1901 and visited by historical figures and American actors such as Audrey Hepburn and Robert De Niro
  • Karakoy Lokantasi for traditional Ottoman cuisine; try Hunkar Begendi here
  • Ciya Sofrasi if you visit Anatolian side

Modern restaurants:

Turkey doesn’t have Michelin star restaurants yet but we definitely have some restaurants that deserves it such as Nicole and Alancha.

  • Nicole in Taksim
  • Alancha in Nisantasi
  • Colonie and Gaspar in Karakoy with a bar and restaurant
  • Munferit in Taksim (closed on Sundays)
  • Changa in Taksim; this is a very well decorated restaurant (Wallpaper Design Award in 2007) with good food
  • Sunset in Ulus; great food and an accompanying great view
  • While you’re here, you can stop by Ulus 29 which is nearby to have drinks over views

Seafood/Fish restaurant:

You should try one of these while you are in Istanbul

  • Rumelihisari Iskele Restaurant: This is my favourite fish restaurant..
  • Kandilli Suna’nin Yeri: Humble fish restaurant in Uskudar on Anatolian side; you can take the boat from Besiktas and go to Uskudar in 5 mins
  • Kiyi: in Tarabya

Night life (these bars/clubs have restaurants too)

  • Reina on Bosphorus; one of the usual suspects. Not always the best crowd but spectacular view
  • Anjelique on Bosphorus; I like this one better than Reina
  • Nuteras in Taksim overseeing old town
  • Su Ada: If  you are in Istanbul in summer. It’s an artificial island in the middle of the sea with bars and restaurants and a pool.
  • 360 Istanbul in Taksim; 360 degree views of the city

SHOPPING

  • Galata neighbourhood in Taksim is the area that has many Turkish designer shops on Serdar-I Ekrem Street

While you’re here, visit Dogan Apartmani – a spectacular building of Italian architecture built in 1800s and Georges Hotel (a design boutique hotel) for drinks over views

Visit Asli Tunca’s luxury interior boutique which is located in the residence that is decorated with a modernized Ottoman style

  • Nisantasi

Beymen is a very popular high end department store

Haremlique for high quality bed and bath products

Yastik by Rifat Ozbek for hand woven pillows with Ikats and Suzani embroideries

Machka and Yargici are ladies’ favourite Turkish stores, you can find both in Nisantasi. You can have lunch in Delicatessen or Beymen Brasserie while you are here.

If you are into Turkish style decoration items, one store to visit is Pasabahce. There is another great store you should visit called HirefThis store is not in Nisantasi but in a shopping mall called Istinye Park.

Midnight Express is another favourite boutique of my wife carrying a good selection of Turkish and foreign designers.

Fey: A vintage boutique highly coveted by my wife

Modern Museums: Both are on Bosphorus and have great exhibitions all year round.

  • Istanbul Modern
  • Sabanci Museum

WHERE TO STAY

If you want to be close to the old city and museums, you should stay at Sultanahmet and Hotel Amira is the best place to stay here.

They are currently number one on TripAdvisor and they treat their guests like family.

Alternatively, depending on your budget you may like to stay in Kempsinki Ciragan Palace. It used to be an Ottoman Palace and is situated on the Bosphorus.

All the best from Singapore,
Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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UK: Prime Minister’s Questions

Prime Minister’s Questions is the weekly session where Prime Minister answers questions of the opposition leader and the other MP’s in the House of Common.

For those you that are not familiar with the UK parliamentary system, House of Commons is the parliament where members of the parliament meet each other.

David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Although prime ministers have answered questions in parliament for centuries, until the 1880s questions to the prime minister were treated the same as questions to other Ministers asked without notice.

In 1881 fixed time-limits for questions were introduced and questions to the prime minister were moved to the last slot of the day as a courtesy to the 72-year-old prime minister at the time, William Gladstone, so he could come to the Commons later in the day. In 1953, when Winston Churchill was prime minister, it was agreed that questions would be submitted on fixed days (Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It is the year of 1961 when the PMQs were made permanent. Since then there has been some tweaks in the format, and it continues in the current format.

I have been following the PMQ in the last four years and there are many funny moments that I laughed out loud.

I think it is a great way to understand British politics and it is also great way to flourish your language skills.

David Cameron is my real star when it comes to PMQ as his performance is always a stellar.

Some of my favourite conservations from PMQ:

#1 David Cameron: “…. which we wouldn’t have, if we would listen the muttering idiot sitting idiot opposite to me”
Speaker: “Prime Minister, please withdraw the word ‘Idiot” as it is unparliamentary…”

#2 David Cameron:  “I do feel now that a big part of my life is trying to give pleasure to Mrs… ” and then he continues “I feel on this occasion, I can only go so far.”

#3 David Cameron: “There is a complete mug …..” to Ed Miliband.

#4 David Cameron: “The gentleman sitting right opposite, enjoys the game, Bingo as it is only time that he’s got close to Number 10”

5# David Cameron: “…. You do not need to be knowing it’s Christmas, when you sitting next to a turkey.”

#6 David Cameron: ” In 43 days time, I am plan to arrange his retirement plan…”

Speaker : “Orderrrr, Orderrrr…”

I do not want to imagine what could happen if these conversations with the noise in the background, would take place in some other countries.

That’s the beauty of advanced democracy in a develop country. I strongly advise you watch PMQs if you haven’t been familiar yet.

All the best from Istanbul before heading back to Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Handy Guide for Singapore

Singapore is the food capital of Asia and it has many good restaurants.

I have been asked many times by travellers to Singapore which restaurants/bars I recommend, so I thought it would be nice to post this week’s article on this subject.

There are, of course, many good restaurants in Singapore and these are only my TOP restaurants.

I hope this article will be your small handy guide for restaurants/bars in Singapore.

1- Akashi

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Akashi is a Japanese restaurant located under Orchard Parade Hotel.

If you are a sushi lover, I think they are one of the world’s best.

In contrast to the restaurant’s simple design, the food is sophisticated and delicious.

I would order ikura sushi, tako sushi, spider maki, reserve California roll, sliced beef and gyoza.

Akashi’s wine menu is rich. Wine lovers will like the variety of the choice.

Your bill will show value for money, unless you order a bottle of Dom Perignon or Petrus.

2- Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is a Thai restaurant located near Dempsey Hill.

Dempsey Hill used to be military barracks: after soldiers left the area, they were converted into a restaurant neighbourhood.

Jim Thompson restaurant is located in an exotic traditional building.

Jim Thompson also has an interesting story. He was an American businessman who help to revitalise the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s. He disappeared during a trip to the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia, and has been never found.

Initially, Thompson was in Thailand due to his duty as a CIA agent in the region. I would highly recommend that you visit his house in Bangkok, Thailand.

Coming back to food, I would order pattaya set for starter, pomelo or green mango salad, beef green curry, Thai style rib-eye steak and stir-fried morning glory.

I am not a big dessert fan, but you should try Thai coconut ice cream here.

Singha beer or one of their nice cocktails can complement your delicious food at Jim Thompson.

3- Blu Kouzina

This is a great, real Greek restaurant on Bukit Timah Road.

It is run by Greeks and the food is authentically very Greek, and delicious.

You can order anything that you would order in a Greek restaurant and enjoy it.

It is a bit pricey, but given that you do not have much choice in Greek food in Singapore, it is fortunate to have such a great restaurant.

4- Pasta Brava

Past Brava is an Italian restaurant established by an Italian gentleman in 1993.

It may sound absurd to go to an Italian restaurant when you travel all the way down to Singapore, but you won’t be disappointed.

The great variety of pastas, along with the rich wine menu, make it one of my top five restaurants in Singapore.

5- Chang Korean BBQ

Chang Korean BBQ is located at the heart of Dempsey Hill.

If you like meat and if you like to cook your own meal, it is a great place.

Every table has its own BBQ and you can sizzle your chosen dish your own way.

Indoor BBQs are fuelled by coal, while outdoors they run on gas. It is up to you which you choose.

Wagyu rib-eye and Wagyu galbi are a must to try!

Drinks:

The Lantern Bar, a rooftop bar at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, is a good choice if you like posh places. It has a perfect view of the Singapore marina and a great range of drinks.

Club Street is a street dedicated to bars and restaurants in Singapore. While there are a great many bars and restaurants on it, I would recommend La Terrazza Rooftop bar. It is a cosy, small, local rooftop bar.

It is important to mention that Singapore is all about Hawker Centres and you should try one of the Hawker Centres, according to its proximity to where you stay.

This week, I am travelling and I am sharing this post from my beloved London!

All the best from London.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

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