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Turkey’s SCO courting largely aimed at sending messages to Europe 15 janvier 2014

Posted by Acturca in Central Asia / Asie Centrale, Russia / Russie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Global Times (China) 15 January 2014, p. 15                                        Türkçe

By Sun Zhuangzhi *

There are lots of discussions around Turkey’s possible membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In late November when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia, he openly expressed the country’s desire to join the SCO. It came at a time when the EU had resumed negotiations over Turkish membership that had been frozen more than three years and when prime ministers of the SCO were due to hold meetings in Tashkent. Therefore, Erdogan’s words were believed to convey great political significance about the strategic adjustment of Turkey’s diplomacy.

Since the beginning of 2013, Turkey’s leaders have expressed their disappointment with the EU in many occasions as well as willingness to join the SCO.

In last January, Erdogan said on a TV program that Turkey had not given up efforts in joining the EU, but the EU had adopted a negative attitude. Due to the dim prospects for the country’s EU membership, Erdogan stressed that Turkey would think seriously about being part of the SCO.

In March 2013, the Turkish military supported Erdogan’s stance of joining the SCO.

Turkey’s earnestness to join the SCO is mainly due to the EU’s tepid attitude toward it. It has been 26 years since Turkey bid to become a member. It became a candidate country in 1999, but during the following years, latecomers, such as many central and eastern European countries, were able to join the EU.

In the eyes of Turkish leaders, the EU is wasting their time. Such disappointment led Turkey to court other organizations to express its dissatisfaction toward the EU. Turkey’s open wooing of the SCO is a way of remonstrating with the EU.

Nonetheless, although Turkey became the SCO’s dialogue partner in 2012 and showed interest in multilateral cooperation within the SCO framework, it is highly unlikely to become an SCO member.

There are geographic obstacles. The core region of the SCO is Central Asia, while Turkey doesn’t share any borders with Central Asian countries. Strictly speaking, it belongs to West Asia.

Political obstacles also matter. Turkey has always been viewed as part of the Western camp. There is deep-seeded rancor between Turkey and Russia. Turkey also advocated Pan-Turkism, which alarmed China and Central Asian countries.

Security issues is another concern. The SCO promotes new security concept and opposes military intervention of NATO and the US. Yet Turkey is a member of NATO and a firm ally of the US. It is unrealistic for Turkey to join the SCO.

Besides, between Turkey and Central Asia is Iran, which has also been actively engaged in wooing the SCO and already gained observer status. But in the short run, the SCO will not grant Iran membership, and thus will not accept Turkey, which has not even acquired observer status.

The reason that Turkey chose Russia to express its will to join the SCO is that both countries face pressure from the EU. Turkey also wanted to mend ties with Russia that have been worsened due to the Syrian crisis.

As Russia wishes to make the SCO a geopolitical tool to counter the West, it will not reject any opportunities to split the West.

Turkey is the pathway through which the energy of Central Asia is transmitted to the West and so it has special geopolitical significance to the West. Recently, Russia and Turkey reached an agreement on a Blue Stream pipeline network that will bring Russian natural gas to Turkey, which shows that Russia also thinks highly of Turkey’s strategic importance.

Although Turkey is defined as an Asian country, it has deeper political and cultural correlations with Europe. Its courting of the SCO is largely diplomatic. While paying attention to NATO and the West, it also attaches importance to Asian countries. Turkey believes its development and security cannot live without cooperation with China and Russia.

* The author is a research fellow at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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