China welcomes Turkish bid for SCO membership

By Sman Erol

Turkey's aspirations for membership in the Russian and Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might materialize as the organization moves towards admitting new members, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a special talk with Today's Zaman.


“The SCO is working on improving the administrative and financial basis for new members. The member states of the SCO will meet and make a decision together on the applications proposed by states that are interested in joining,” said a senior Chinese official on Friday.


In addition, he said the SCO observes the principle of openness and values the partnership with observer countries, including Turkey as a dialogue partner, adding that “the SCO is mapping out detailed cooperative measures.”


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The Chinese government's statement came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a TV interview last week that Turkey might seek membership in the SCO, given the stalled negotiations with the European Union that Turkey has struggled for 40 years to join.


"I recently said to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin: ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five. Take us and we will say goodbye to the EU.' What's the point of stalling?” Erdoğan said, referring to the SCO by its previous name.


There has been no official statement on the issue from the Russian government.


Acknowledging for the first time in public Erdoğan's comment that “the SCO is much better than the EU,” which led to a wide range of debate and discussion, Chinese analysts say Ankara's decision to move toward the SCO matches the actual development and power of Turkey in the region. That is, Turkey can choose to go for the SCO or for the EU.


“Since the EU has not accepted Turkey, Turkey can search for a new way. Strengthening the relationship with the SCO will help Turkey to realize its strategic goal for 2023,” Professor Wang Lincong, director of the international relations division of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies and secretary-general of the Gulf Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said in an interview with Today's Zaman.


In 2023 Turkey will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic. It is also a critical date that Turks have set to achieve their strategic mission for a competitive economy, a proactive foreign policy and becoming a regional energy hub, all of which will affect Turkey's role in the world.


According to Lincong, the EU has shown by its treatment of Turkey's bid for membership that it still cannot get beyond its narrow, exclusive and inward-looking characteristics and does not realize the importance of the acceptance of Turkey.


“Given the deep financial crisis in Europe, the members of the EU should know that they need Turkey much more; it is a chance for the development of the EU,” Lincong said.


Commenting on the importance Turkey attaches to the SCO with its recent announcement, Lincong said that for the past 10 years, Turkey has become more open and pays more attention to the East under its policy of balanced diplomacy, adding, “Turkey's eastward-oriented strategy has created broad prospects for the development of the country.”


The SCO is an intergovernmental security organization composed of six member countries: China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and which some say also has a strategic goal of ending the global hegemony of the US, Turkey's NATO ally.


Turkey officially applied to the SCO for “dialogue partnership status" in March 2011, which was approved at the Council of Heads of State Summit in Beijing a few months later. Now, Turkey is waiting for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the SCO and Turkey as the third “dialogue partner,” following Belarus and Sri Lanka.


The Today’s Zaman