Ankara Away?
China Eyes Turkey For Shanghai Cooperation Organization

In a development that could spook the West, both Ankara and Beijing are floating the idea of Turkey joining the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Reuters:

China said on Monday it was willing to consider any application from NATO-member Turkey to join a Russian and Chinese-led security bloc, after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country could join.

China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001 to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Turkey was already a “dialogue partner” of the regional bloc and had for a long time closely cooperated with it.

China attached great importance to Turkey’s wish to strengthen that cooperation, he told a news briefing. […]

Erdogan was quoted on Sunday as saying that Turkey did not need to join the European Union “at all costs” and could instead become part of the SCO.

In his full remarks on Sunday, Erdogan vented his frustrations with the European Union and Turkey’s stalled membership talks, pointing to the SCO as an alternative. According to The Daily Sabah, Erdogan said he had discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan President Nulsultan Nazarbayev, and said his patience with the EU was growing thin. “The EU has been procrastinating for 53 years,” said Erdogan. “Can anyone accept such behavior?”

This is not the first time that Turkey has broached the possibility of joining the SCO. Erdogan made waves with the suggestion in 2012 and then again in 2013, when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Turkey shared “common values” with the SCO and that the pact was “much more powerful” than the EU.

Erdogan’s latest comments could be an empty threat, but they come at a time of immense strain in relations between Turkey and the West. For the past several months, Erdogan has criticized his NATO allies (especially the United States) for not supporting his crackdowns and purges after July’s failed coup. Meanwhile, Erdogan has mostly patched up his rocky relationship with Putin, and Turkey’s EU negotiations drag on with no end in sight.

It is too early to judge how serious Erdogan is about Turkey joining the SCO. But at a time when Erdogan is growing disillusioned with Europe, revisionist powers like Russia and China are gaining ground, and faith in the liberal order is crumbling, the West would do well to remain vigilant about the possibility.

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